Nigel Farndale’s The Blasphemer is one of those epic novels, so grand in scope that it proves near impossible to provide a succinct summary of its various parts while still capturing its vital essence. With a narrative that shifts among multiple characters as well as jumping between events of World War I and the present day, there are so many storylines and ideas swirling about that the sheer grace and ease of the novel are truly a testament to Farndale’s prowess as a writer; in the hands of someone less skilled, the novel would likely implode in a tangled mess rather than unifying into a triumphant whole.
At its heart, The Blasphemer is about two men, Daniel and Andrew Kennedy, and the moments when their actions cause their lives to fracture and hurtle down a path in which their choices reverberate far into the future. Daniel is a prominent professor of zoology who observes Darwin’s cruel principle of “survival of the fittest” firsthand when the plane carrying him and the love of his life, Nancy, to the Galapagos Islands crashes headlong into the sea. Does Daniel save himself first or Nancy? The same is true for his great-grandfather, Andrew, who enlisted to fight for England in the war against Germany. When his battalion charges at Passchendaele, he too must face the critical dilemma of fight or flight. Both men’s split-second decisions have long-reaching consequences that neither could have envisioned, forever changing the course of their lives.
The Blasphemer is, quite simply, a joyful symphony of a novel. Through Daniel and Andrew, Farndale examines existentialist issues of faith, love, truth, courage and redemption. These various themes are intricately woven together to form a stirring meditation on the human condition, one that will resonate and strike a chord deep within any reader—even those who believe that there are no new stories to tell about the Great War. A thoughtful and ambitious rumination on the union of science and religion with the pacing of a contemporary thriller penned in melodic prose, this is a novel that lays the groundwork for a truly transcendental reading experience.