Such is my Beloved, written by Morley Callaghan and published in the 1930s, follows the tragic tale of a young priest, Father Dowling, as he tries in vain to help two prostitutes, Ronnie and Midge, lead better lives.
For something conceived in the late 1920s, I felt the story to be profound. The insight given into the lives and minds of various characters, including the priest and the prostitutes, is rather modern. It's interesting because Callaghan's prose is dull and inelegant. The flat prose helps in acquiring the blunt, urban feel of the novel - but at the same time, the story is so complex, the implications so elaborate...it's quite the contrast!
The complexity of Such is my Beloved stems, in part, from the themes; the questions raised by the end of the novel are just harrowing. Is Dowling's love for the prostitutes pure in nature or are there hidden motives behind his care for Ronnie and Midge? Is it love, in fact, or obsession -- and in fact, where, if anywhere, is the boundary between selfless love and insanity? Dowling's character is juxtaposed against the other characters in the world of the novel, who are petty, hypocritical, and ruled by societal norms. This is also, I think, the urban world that most (if not all) readers inhabit - and so it's very difficult to even imagine that perhaps Dowling is able to transcend the despicable human tendencies that we are so accustomed to and perhaps even possess ourselves.
In the end, it almost feels like the book is challenging us to consider our own views about life: will we see the story and, by extension, the very world we live in through the veil of cynicism imposed on us by a grim society - or do we have what it takes to believe in something better?
I really did enjoy this book. It's interesting, and a bit startling. I recommend it highly!