Several years ago, I bought a novel by Louis de Wohl as a birthday present for my husband. At the time, I was a little burned out on stories about the saints, so I gave no thought to reading it myself.
Fast forward three years, and I am given the project of writing discussion guides about our novels for IPNovels.com. There are quite a few Louis de Wohl books on the list. I prepared mentally for reading what I thought would be interesting, but somewhat dry and predictable, books about the saints. Let’s face it, many books about the saints can be intimidating, as we read about lives so holy that we can’t relate to them. I heard a sermon once where the priest said that many biographers of saints do us a disservice when they gloss over the saint’s faults and struggles, painting a perfect picture of lives so austere and sacrificial that we might despair that we could ever be a saint.
This is what I expected from Louis de Whol. I was wrong.
So far I’ve read 5 of his novels about the saints: The Living Wood (St. Helena), The Quiet Light (St. Thomas Aquinas), The Restless Flame (St. Augustine), The Joyful Beggar (St. Francis of Assisi), and The Golden Thread (St. Ignatius of Loyola). I have enjoyed all of them immensely—so much that I looked forward to reading them with a glass of wine and some chocolate at the end of the day with three small children! How is that for a novel about the lives of the saints?
Why do I love these novels? First, they present the facts of the lives of the saints—stories I have read in other books and heard about in homilies—but in the fascinating context of what was happening at the time. Throughout the novel, I found myself stopping to look up and read more about history. This put the lives of the saints in context and helped me understand why that saint was needed at that particular time. For example, I learned what was going on in the Church and the world when God called St. Francis and St. Dominic to found the mendicant orders, and why they were so important. I really enjoyed learning more about history from these novels.
Second, the lives of the saints were shown with all their struggles and flaws. I especially loved the development of the character of St. Helena, a strong and courageous woman who converts from paganism to the Catholic faith. She was tough and fierce and I wouldn’t want to be in a confrontation with her! It was inspiring to see how de Whol developed her character and holiness and yet her struggles, especially with her son Constantine, made her relatable.
Finally, I enjoyed the artistic license that de Whol took in the supporting characters. These characters might have been a relative or friend of the saint whose life was changed for the better by the powerful example of the saint’s life. It was interesting to see these characters develop throughout the stories, and in several cases these characters also added an element of love and intrigue to the novel. It also made me think about the many unknown people that the saints help and influence by living a holy life, which was inspiration for me to try to do the same.
If you’ve never read a novel by Louis de Whol, I hope you will treat yourself and pick up one these incredible, entertaining, and captivating reads soon! You won’t regret it.