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Theophania and the church in her house

26 August 2018

Today we went, as we do on alternate Sundays, to Mamelodi East where we join Theophania and the church in her house for the Hours and Readers Service. We used to meet in a school classroom, until they put the rent up, and then we began meeting in the houses of members, usually the oldest and most infirm. Theophania Malahlela has difficulty in walking, so we meet in her house.

Today is the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, and the Epistle reading seemed especially appropriate for a house church — the closing slautation of St Paul’s first letter to the Corintians (I Cor 16:13-24).:

I am glad about the coming of Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, for what was lacking on your part they supplied. For they refreshed my spirit and yours. Therefore acknowledge such men. The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. All the brethren greet you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Shabi and Kamo Malahlela with their new books. Behind them is their great grandmother Theophania.

And so as the church that used to meet in the house of Aquila and Priscilla greeted the church in Corinth, so the church that meets in the house of Theophania greets Holy Transfiguration Church in Georgia, USA.
About a month ago we had a visitor from that churcfh, Carlie Frederick, who came with us to Divine Liturgy at St Sergius of Radonezh in Midrand, and bought us a gift of some books written by their deacon, Fr Deacon Stephen Muse.

This morning we gave the books to the youngest members of the church that meets in Theo9phania’s house, her great grandchildre4n, Shabi and Kamo Malahlela. We hope they enjoy reading them.

So thanks to Deacon Stephen Muse for sending the books, and Theophania and the Church that meets in her house send greetings.

More on the Mamelodi Church here

Islands, missiology and literature

23 August 2018

Old saints on millstones float with cats
To islands out at sea
Whereon no female pelvis can
threaten their agape.

So wrote W.H. Auden in a poem called to mind by re-reading

The Coral IslandThe Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I read this some time in my childhood, but had lost my copy long ago, and when I saw a copy on the toss-out counter of a church bookshop I picked it up and re-read it, mainly in order to compare it with Lord of the Flies, whose plot I do remember, though I first read it a long time ago too.

I had often heard it said that Lord of the Flies was a kind of realistic retelling of the story of The Coral Island, but it was only on re-reading the latter that I realised that the two main characters had the same names. And I also realised how much I had forgotten of the story. Virtually the only thing I recalled was my mental picture of the island on which they landed, and I had a vague recollection that the boys in The Coral Island were a bit older.

What I had completely forgotten was the extent to which The Coral Island deals with Christian mission and missionaries, especially in the second part, and that links with a current project of mine, on missiology in fiction, which was sparked off by reading Things fall apart | Notes from underground about a month ago.

The main difference between the two island books, it seems to me, is the age of the characters — teenagers in The Coral Island, doing resourceful teenage things that could have come out of Scouting for Boys, if the latter had been published by then. Lord of the Flies has pre-teen children, less resourceful, more easily distracted. And where The Coral Island has savages becoming civilised, thanks to the influence of missionaries, Lord of the Flies has the civilised becoming savages, in the absence of such influences.

The comparison is quite interesting, but I said no more in my review on GoodReads, lest I introduce spoilers, so if you haven’t read any of the books mentioned here, and intend to, stop reading now.

It would be interesting to read those two one after the other, and to follow both up with A High Wind in Jamaica, which starts on an island, but ends on the mainland, at least if you can call the island of Great Britain a mainland.

I also recently acquired a secondhand copy of Pears Cyclopaedia, 1968 edition. That makes it about my vintage, 1968 was my last year as a full-time student. In the Literary Companion section it described Lord of the Flies as an allegory of the fall. I felt rather vindicated by that, as I had said as much in an English I essay, on whether Lord of the Flies was an optimistic or a pessimistic book. The lecturer wrote some sarky comments about approaching books with preconceived notions, which struck me as a bit silly and unfair. If you approach books as a tabula rasa, with no ideas and no experience, what on earth can they say to you?

And both Lord of the Rings and The Coral Island deal with the Fall of Man, though in very different ways. In The Coral Island the island where the boys are marooned is an idyllic paradise, and evil comes to it from the outside, in the form of savages and pirates. The island, protected by its coral reef, is paradise, and evil comes from out there. And the contrast is drawn sharply. The pirates and savages are almost pure evil, with no redeeming features, until the missionaries get hold of the savages. Then the transformation is as instantaneous as it is miraculous. Within two days of the missionary’s preaching, people who were deceitful, treacherous and violent become honest, gentle and peaceful, without exception. I believe R.M. Ballantyne was a Presbyterian, and the total depravity shines through.

In Lord of the Flies the ones who are marooned are schoolboys from a choir school. They to find themselves in a kind of paradise, but in this case the evil does not intrude from outside, but, as in the biblical paradise, it arises unaccountably from within. And it is salvation, not evil, that comes from outside in the end.

In A high wind in Jamaica there are pre-teen children who are captured by pirates, but the pirates are not the pure evil villains of The Coral Island. Instead they are rather shocked by the callousness and sometimes unconsciously evil behaviour of the children. It shows good and evil mingled in all the characters, and often misinterpreted because of cultural differences. Children and adults live in different cultural worlds, as do pirates and respectable citizens of London, and the media.

So there’s another aspect of missiology where I found A High wind in Jamaica very useful: different cultures and different cultural perceptions, but that’s a bit different from the fall. I’ve written about that in Notions of a white or black culture in SA are pure bollocks | Notes from underground.

Does Satanism pre-date Christianity?

12 August 2018

Someone asked this on Quora — Does Satanism predate Christianity?

And my reply on Quora:

Probably not.

According to the Christian mythos, Satan is the villain of the piece (the “piece” being life, the universe and everything). It was only after Satan had been established as the villain that some people decided they wanted to follow him.

And as far as I am aware Satanism only appeared as a phenomenon at the time of the Renaissance, about 1500 years after Christianity started, and that was because of certain changes in Christian theology in Western Europe in the preceding centuries.

These changes had to do with the notion of witchcraft.

When Christianity began, people in the surrounding pagan world feared witchcraft (as do many people in Africa today). Christians thought it was wrong to fear witchcraft (maleficium), because they thought Christ had more power than human malice. Therefore for Christians to believe that witches had any real power to harm was superstition. Christians often put an end to the pagan practice of burning suspected witches, and discouraged accusations of witchcraft.

But around the 11th or 12th centuries this began to change. Witchcraft accusations began to appear in Western Europe, and eventually were encouraged instead of being punished as in earlier centuries. An elaborate conspiracy theory grew up, to the effect that witches had made a pact with the devil and were out to destroy the Christian faith, and the Great European Witch Hunt got under way. People often speak of witch hunts as “medieval” but they weren’t, they were Early Modern and were a product of modernity. Witch hunts are increasing in frequency in Africa as Africa modernises.

The notion that witches had made a pact with the devil was a new one in Christianity, and a false one — most of the suspected “witches” had done no such thing. But the thought that one could make a pact with the devil was what gave rise to Satanism, which was sometimes linked to other Renaissance phenomena like ritual magic and alchemy, though not identical with them.

For more, see here

More comments
I thought this was an interesting question and worth discussing, and hoped to share it with the Missiology group on Facebook, but Facebook blocked it, perhaps because it didn’t have a picture of cats in it, so I’ll add the obligatory cat picture here in the hope that Facebook might let it be shared..

This picture has nothing to do with the notion that witches had black cats. It’s here because having a picture of a cat might make is shareable on Facebook. When I tried to post a link to this stuff without a cat picture, Facebook censored it.

I think the question whether Satanism predated Christianity might be linked to another peculiar Christian view — that good and evil are not equal and opposite forces. In the Christian view, God created the world and said that it was good. Evil came along afterwards.

In the Christian view evil has no independent existence. Evil can only exist by twisting a pre-existing good. You cannot have counterfeit money without good money. You cannot have forged cheques without a system of good cheques. Evil is always subsequent to good and is parasitic on it. So Satanism cannot precede Christianity.

The process I described — of how Christian doctrine got so twisted that whereas before accusations of witchcraft were punished as much as the act, by the 15th century in Western Europe accusations were being encouraged.

The Great Witch Hunt in Europe was essentially satanic (it is important to distinguish between what is satanic and what is satanistic). Satan means “accuser”. The satan was the prosecutor in the heavenly court, and there was rejoicing there when “the accuser of our brethren was cast down” (Rev 12:10). There is nothing more satanic than the making of accusations, and the Great European Witch Hunt encouraged and rewarded the making of accusations,

As Charles Williams describes it, the 16th-century witch trials ordered by the Malleus Maleficarum differed from earlier ones in that they did not punish false accusations. “The secular governments of centuries earlier had been wiser; they had penalized the talk as much as the act. The new effort did not do so; it encouraged the talk against the act.” And they even, in some cases, punished those who failed to accuse their neighbours. Thus the accusers were far more satanic than the accused.

I mentioned above that ritual magic was associated with Satanism at the time of the Renaissance, and even though Satanism did not predate Christianity, magic did predate Christianity. As Charles Williams says in his history of witchcraft,

Before Christendom began, magic, with its lower accompaniment of witchcraft, preoccupied the whole Roman Empire; we have forgotten the darkness out of which we came. It was as popular as it was perilous. It was certainly regarded by the authorities as a public danger, but, on the whole, action against it was taken only by private persons in lawsuits or by the government in suspicion of treason (Williams 1959:305).

So though there is no necessary link between Satanism and witchcraft, in the sense that Satanists are not necessarily witches (and vice versa), it was the peculiar inversion and twisting of Christian theology that popularised the notion that it was possible to make a pact with the devil. Many were falsely accused of doing such a thing, but Satanists were the ones who came to think that it was a good thing to do.

.In the 20th century a bloke called Anton LaVey started the “Church of Satan”, perhaps as a kind of joke, but he certainly didn’t invent Satanism. The Church of Satan is something that Satanism did predate.

I can’t COPE any more

7 August 2018

I was beginning to think that if I survived to vote in the 2019 general election, the only party that might be left that one could vote for with a good conscience was COPE, the Congress of the People Party. It seemed to be one of the very few parties that still took the Freedom Charter seriously.[1]

But then I heard this story DignitySA and COPE to bring advance directives Bill to Parliament, which inclines me to cross COPE off the list:

In a secular state, people should of course be free to exercise their religious commitments if those commitments don’t violate the law.

But citizens should also not be forced to adhere to laws that are motivated by non-secular considerations, such as the idea that life is granted and taken away by a metaphysical being, and where humans (who possess the property of existing!) having no say in when and how they die.

The good news is that we are about to inch a little closer to securing personal agency in end-of-life decisions, thanks to Deirdre Carter (of COPE) having lodged a notice of intent to introduce a Private Member’s Bill on advance directives to Parliament. This follows extensive consultation with DignitySA, who have played a key role in getting things this far.

If that is the attitude of COPE, then I couldn’t think of voting for it. For one thing, it disingenuously obscures the distinction between a secular state (one that does not adhere to a religious ideology) and a secularist state (one that adheres to an irreligious ideology). It is very disturbing that COPE should associate itself with an irreligious ideology or militant secularism.

Perhaps the only party left will be the ACDP (African Christian Democratic Party). I’ve never voted for them before for the same reason that I’m crossing COPE off my list — they have always stated that they were in favour of capital punishment.

While it is not the only criterion for deciding which party to vote for, I m reluctant to support political parties that endorse the culture of death — which includes the promotion of war, abortion, capital punishment and physician-assisted suicide. I certainly have theological reasons for objecting to such things, but there are others who object to them on purely secular grounds, contrary to the misleading statements by COPE and DignitySA. Other instances can be found here and here. .

So I have two reasons for crossing COPE off my list of possible parties to vote for.

1. Its pro-death stance

2. Its association  with militant and bigoted anti-religious statements like the one quoted above, which is reminiscent of the kind of rhetoric common in Bolshevik Russia and Enver Xhoxha’s Albania.

Actually I don’t have a big problem with what they are proposing immediately — respect for living wills, and not taking extraordinary measures to resuscitate people. That kind of behaviour is actually far more secular than religious — playing God with advanced medical technology. By all means resuscitate people if there is a good chance that they will recover, but keeping people alive indefinitely by artificial technical means is not a religious goal, at least not for Orthodox Christians, as far as I can tell.

So it’s not the immediate goal that I object to so much as the long-term one expressed in the same article, of promoting physician-assisted suicide, and the militantly anti-religious tone of the article.

Also, what is not included in the statement above, but was said by someone speaking about it on TV yesterday, was the idea that we should get rid of all religion and morality in public life. Well, that would certainly give carte blanche for bribery and corruption, which many see as a big problem in South Africa, but the militant secularists of COPE and DignitySA, in their desire to get rid of morals, apparently do not.

But even if those organisations think that it is desirable to be amoral, many South Africans, like people in other countries, do not, and would have reservations about having an amoral code of morality forced upon them by the State. See, for example, this article: Lethal Injection and Physicians: State Law vs Medical Ethics. It may be argued that there is an ethical difference, since in the case of “assisted dying” it is voluntary, while in the case of capital punishment it is involuntary, but for many medical doctors it is governed by the same ethical considerations. I wonder how many people would be happy if only the amoral were allowed to enter the medical professions, which seems to be what Cope and DignitySA are asking for?

For Orthodox Christians there is a good discussion of these issues here: Euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, and the pursuit of death with dignity, It is ironic that for most English-speaking people nowadays euthanasia, which means “good death”, has become synonymous with physician-assisted suicide (PAS), yet Orthodox Christians pray for a good death at every Divine Liturgy, A Christian ending to our life: painless, blameless and peaceful; and a good defence before the dread judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord. And the people respond: Lord have mercy.  That is true euthanasia.



[1] The Freedom Charter is still on the ANC’s web site, but I’m not sure that the ANC takes it seriously any more.

In Memoriam: Stephen Pandula Gawe (1938-2018)

23 July 2018

A few months ago I was privileged to attend the 80th birthday party of an old friend, Stephen Pandula Gawe, and now I have heard the sad new that he died on 18 July 2018, while staying with his daughter and son-in-law Nomtha and Antony Gray in Oxford, England.

I’ve already said most of what I have to say about our friendship when I wrote about his birthday party, so I won’t repeat all of that here. But I will try to say a bit more about his life, a life spend in service of South Africa and its people.

I first met him almost exactly 55 years ago, on 1 July 1963, when we had gone to Modderpoort in the Free State for the 4th annual conference of the Anglican Students Federation of South Africa (ASF). He was then a post-graduate student at the University College of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, having majored in English and Political Science. At the conference he was elected vice-president of the ASF.

Stephen Pandula Gawe was born in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape on 5 January 1930. He was the son of the Revd Walker Stanley Gawe (1900-1908) and his wife Regina Gawe (born Dakada). The Revd Walker Stanley Gawe was an Anglican priest and had been involved in the freedom struggle from an early age. His wife Regina celebrated her 100th birthday in 2005.

Stephen Pandula Gawe, as a student in the 1960s

Stephen’s studies were interrupted in 1964 when he was detained under the 90-day detention clause along with three other Fort Hare students. Eventually he was brought to trial and was sentenced to a year in prison for belonging to the then-banned ANC.

When he was released from prison in 1966 he was offered a bursary to complete his studies at Trinity College, Oxford. While a student there in 1967 he married Tozie Mzamo.

In 1971 he completed a Diploma in Youth and Community work, and for the next 15 years was a youth and community worker for the Oxford City Council and the Hampshire County Council, the latter based in Southampton. At that time their two daughters Nomtha and Vuyo were born.  After completing a Diploma in Adult Education at Nottingham University he became an adult education worker, still for the Hampshire County Council.

During this time he was active in the ANC in the UK as a member of the political committee, and chairing it from 1987.

In 1991 he became that ANC’s chief representative in Italy, and over the next few years also underwent training in diplomacy in France, Belgium, Britain, Norway and Germany. In August 1994 he began working for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pretoria.

In 1995 he became South Africa’s Ambassador to Norway and on the completion of his term of
duty he became a Director at the Foreign Service Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In 2000 his wife Tozie died, and in 2001 he was appointed South African Ambassador to Denmark. He later married a colleague in the diplomatic service, and after retiring accompanied her to the South African embassies in Hungary and Chile.





Forward to the past: South Africa is back in 1985

17 July 2018

When I hear the rhetoric of South Africa political leaders and the commentariat on the media, I sometimes think I’m stuck in a time warp. There was that film Back to the future. set in 1985, and going forward to 2015, but now we seem to be going back to 1985.

Suddenly racism is back in fashion. Whites, we are told, are being genocided. or are all living on land that they themselves have stolen, depending on who you listen to. The Zulus hate the Indians and the Indians disrespect the coloureds. There are narratives of white privilege and white victimhood, both of which stress the importance of whiteness. The Rainbow Nation, we are told, is a white lie built on black pain.

Is this revival of racism real, or is it just me and my own idiosyncratic perception?

No, it isn’t just me. My erstwhile colleague Tinyiko Maluleke seems to be having similar thoughts when he writes Time to put Nelson Mandela where he belongs | IOL News:

Our leaders seem to have forgotten how to speak of and to us as a nation. It is one thing for our leaders to speak truthfully and honestly about economic and political disparities.

It is quite another thing, when leaders conceal their lack of a unifying vision of South Africans as a people, by pandering to sectional, provincial and tribal interests.

Every time a South African leader invokes the phrase “our people”, we look at one another with bewilderment, wondering which particular people he or she is talking about.

We have come to know instinctively and to take for granted, that today few leaders if any use the phrase “our people” to refer to all South Africans.

I recall the early 1990s when in the negotiations leading to our first free democratic elections the ANC adamantly rejected the “group rights” concept that the National Party wanted. Now the ANC appear to have swallowed the poisoned racist bait put out by the NP. Truly did Paolo Freire say that the oppressed internalise the image of the oppressor, and in the end become just like the oppressor.

As a dog returns to its vomit, so South Africans are returning to racism and are reviving the “group rights” and groupthink rhetoric of apartheid. And it is the current leaders of the ANC who are leading the lemming charge. Not that the leaders of other parties are any better, but it is the ANC leaders who ought to know better, because it was their predecessors who strongly resisted the “group rights” concept and insisted on a democratic non-racial South Africa.

My mind goes back to 1983, when there was a white referendum for the tricameral parliament. A National Party canvasser called on me to persuade me to vote for it, and spent the whole afternoon arguing for it. After about 2-3 hours it finally sank in that I did not accept the concept of “group rights”. and that I thought that we should forget the groups and that whites, coloureds, Indians — Assembians, Representatives and Delegates — should vote together for a single parliament, and that the blacks, who had been left out of his splendid tricameral vision, should also vote for the same parliament.

“But that hasn’t worked anywhere,” he protested.

“Yes, it has,” I said, “just look west.”

He did not understand what I was talking about, but having given him all the clues he needed to work it out, after another half hour of arguing I had to spell out the answer for him. If you look west from Pretoria you will see B-O-T-S-W-A-N-A, where it had been working for 20 years. Botswana did not have a house of Assembly for the Bamangwato, a House or Representatives for the Bakwena, and a House of Dellegates for the Basarwa, as far as I knew,. But my canvasser’s mind was unable to think out of the apartheid “group rights” box that his Christian National Education had locked it into.

And now I wonder why everyone seems to be trying to crawl back into that box.

The people who resisted that, who got us out of that box at Codesa, were people like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo.

And now the neo-racists are calling Nelson Mandela a sell-out!

Those who call Nelson Mandela a sell-out are the real sell-outs, because they are trying to sell us the long-discarded old puke of Malan, Strijdom, Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha.

And while a couple of years ago I thought the #colourblind slogan a bit naive and simplistic, I’m beginning to have a change of heart about that, and to think we probably need another dose of colour-blindness to cure us of the neoracist twaddle being peddled on the media (yes, eNCA is beginning to channel the SABC of the 1970s) and by politicians.

So please read Tinyiko Maluleke’s full the link above. And let’s try to watch that we don’t get sucked into using racist rhetoric, which is rapidly being normalised again.

I keep thinking of what an English friend once said at the height of apartheid — when South Africa has solved the problem of the black and the white it will only be beginning to face the real problem — the haves and the have-nots.

I suspect that the neoracist rhetoric is a smokescreen to hide the real problem of the haves and the have nots.

Viva the Rainbow Nation! Viva!


Literary mysteries and ancient treasure

4 July 2018

I’ve just read a couple of books in the literary mysteries genre. Neither of them was a particularly good example of the genre, but there were some things about them that piqued my curiosity. I picked them out more or less at random from the library, and yet found that they were surprisingly similar in plot.

The Library of ShadowsThe Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Over the years I’ve read several books that feature second-hand bookshops, or antiquarian or rare books. Most of them seem to have “shadow” in the title — The shadow of the wind, The Book of Air and Shadows and now The Library of Shadows. An exception is The Never-Ending Story. but in that the book shop does not play quite such an important role. Another was The mysterious flame of Queen Loana, which I discussed in another post, here, but that was about the bookseller rather than about the books he sold. So when I picked this one up in the library, I thought it might be a book in the same genre, but it wasn’t.

In this one a young lawyer Copenhagen inherits his father’s bookshop when he dies, and one of his clients urges him to sell it. He has lost touch with his father after the death of his mother some years before, and discovers that the bookshop in frequented by people who belong to a Bibliophile Society, which around the time of his mother’s death split into two factions — those whose reading aloud could influence people in a special way, who were called “transmitters”, and those who could influence the readers in a special way, called “receivers”. Each blamed the other for bad things that had happened to members of the society.

When I started reading it, something about the style bothered me. I wondered at first whether it might be the quality of the translation (it is translated from Danish). Could it be the translation that made the style seem somewhat pedestrian, and the descriptions seem trite? There were physical descriptions of the characters, but not much more. One of the things that put me off was the description of female characters by their hair colour (“the redhead”), which struck me as rather sexist, but then I thought it might be different in Danish culture.

I’ve just been reading another book that warns against what I’m doing here — comparing books with other books, and not treating them on their own merits, but this one seemed to invite such comparisons, as it kept reminding me of other books I had read. And the one it reminded me of most was The da Vinci code. I think it is better written, but definitely the same genre. so if you enjoyed reading The Da Vinci code, you might enjoy this book too.

The Chaos CodeThe Chaos Code by Justin Richards
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Matt Sribling goes to stay with his father for the school holidays, but his father is not home. Since his father is a rather eccentric archaeologist he is not surprised when he finds cryptic clues to his father’s whereabouts, and instructions to go to stay with his aunt Jane. but the house shows signs of having been broken into, so he is rather worried. His aunt is personal assistant to a wealthy researcher, Julius Venture, and his mysterious daughter Robin, who appears to be about Matt’s age and therefore likely to make the holiday more interesting, but his aunt warns him not to get too close to her.

Matt discovers that his father was on the track of some ancient manuscripts and artefacts that had been rescued, or pillaged from a library, and some historical research is needed to find where they are. They enlist the help of a billionaire, and travel from continent to continent in search of the missing treasure, one item of which, it is reputed, will unlock the wisdom of the ancients. At that point the story turns to pure fantasy, and becomes rather unconvincing.

One of the other reviewers of The Library of Shadows on Good Reads, Mark Zieg, makes some interesting remarks about the readers for whom it is intended. The author, he says, clearly intended it to be “the latest submission in the subgenre of supernatural literary thriller”, along with books like Elizabeth Kostovo’s The historian, and some of the others I have mentioned. He goes on to say:

The “whodunnit” aspect of the mystery, the morality play of motivations, as well as the supernatural element which sets the plot in motion, are all presented with such clumsy cliches that I found myself wondering if this was a book written for children. Indeed, with one or two snips of the editor’s scissors, this could make excellent juvenile fiction, an easy on-ramp to spark interest in better books featuring similar themes: dark and dank libraries filled with forgotten folios, musty old tomes of legend and lore whose cryptic secrets spell ecstasy or horror for the unwary reader..

And with that conclusion I must concur, and that is partly why I compare it with the second book, The Chaos Code, which, however, is classified as juvenile literature, and is likewise also perhaps to be classified as being in the same genre as The Da Vinci Code (my review here)., in that all three are about ancient conspiracies.

The main reason for blogging about The library of shadows and The Chaos Code together, however, is that in spite of the similarity of content, there is a great difference in style. Though both are probably more suitable for juvenile than adult readers, the one that was written with juvenile readers in mind is by far the better written of the two, And I’m trying to put my finger on the difference. Could it be that The Library of Shadows has just been badly translated from the Danish? Or are the stylistic weaknesses in the Danish original as well.

It’s hard to define the differences, but if any of my litcrit fundi friends are reading this, perhaps they could comment. In the first, from, The Library of Shadows, Jon Campelli, a lawyer, has just been to his father’s funeral, and been told that his father had left no will, so he was the sole heir of his antiquarian book shop.

They shook hands, then Jon crossed the street and went inside the Clean Glass pub.

It was no more than two in the afternoon but the air was thick with smoke and the regular customers had already taken their places. They gave him a brief glance but clearly decided he was of no interest and went back to their beers.

Jon ordered a draught beer and sat down at a heavy wooden table, marred by beer rings and lit by a hanging copper lamp attached somewhere above the hanging clouds of smoke. At a table opposite him sat a scrawny old man with pale skin, a crooked nose and wispy hair. The jacket he was wearing had patches on the sleeves, and the shirt underneath was wrinkled and far from clean. On the table in front of him stood a bottle of stout.

Jon offered the man a curt nod in greeting, but then he pulled out the Remer file from his briefcase so as not to invite further conversation. He sipped his beer as he studied the anonymous ring-binder.

In The Chaos Code Matt Stribling, 15, has just got off the train from boarding school and been met by his mother.

‘Thanks for meeting me.’ Usually she was working and he got a taxi.
‘Let’s just grab a cup of coffee while we’re here, Matthew,’ Mrs Stribling said.
From the fact that she said it, and the way she called him ‘Matthew’, Matt knew he wasn’t going home.
There was a Starbucks in the station and Matt had orange juice. His mouth was dry after the long journey from his school in Havenham. He was quiet, sulking — he’d been looking forward to spending the holidays at Mum’s flat in London. It didn’t look like that was going to happen now, and he could guess what the alternative was. He wanted to tell her that it was knowing he’d come home for the summer that made boarding school bearable.
Mum had a latte, and and Matt thought she’d probably only got that because she thought it wouldn’t be so hot and she could drink it quicker. Sure enough, as soon as they were seated: ‘I have to go in thirteen minutes,’ Mum told him.
That was typical of her. So precise. Matt liked to be precise too. He preferred his digital watch that told the exact right time to the second rather than one with a face and hands you had to look at and work out where everything was to tell the time.

So what is it that makes me think the second passage is much better than the first?

Why did I give the second one three stars on Good Reads, but the first one only two? Neither is a brilliant work of literature, and there are much better books in the sub-genre that I might recommend. Any ideas?