Note: Author Alcove posts will be about particular authors and not necessarily specific works. While they may include specific works, they will be focused on the author's common approach to all his/her works. As with the books and movies, feel free to suggest an author for us to comment on.
One would have a hard time knowing from his works that Louis de Wohl was a Frenchman who learned English simply so he could write it and reach a wider audience. In fact, readers might even doubt that was the case. His style and word choices are fantastic. A Catholic author, he writes about the lives of the saints but not in the usual way. Where there is uncertainty, he fills in his own unique ideas.
I usually categorize his writings as "historical fiction" because of the liberties he takes. He never (so far as I can tell) changes the facts that we already know, but he does add things when information is uncertain (such as giving St. Augustine's mistress a name). The beauty in his stories is the broader outlook--and the realistic approach. He does not portray saints as perfect as so many books do. They struggle too, just as they did in real life.
Sometimes, the story isn't even told with the focus on the saint. In The Quiet Light, which is about St. Thomas Aquinas, the story is actually told from the view of a knight who works for the Aquinas family and (SPOILER!) falls in love with Thomas's sister. This outlook allows the reader to understand why the saint did as he/she did. We are impacted by our world whether we like it or not and de Wohl has a very good understanding of that. He writes the story of one person, yes, but also of the world around that person.
A word of caution: de Wohl does not cut corners to make things appropriate. While I have not come across any graphic R-rated scenes, they are quite often implied. After all, how does one tell the story of St. Augustine of Hippo without his mistress? How does one write about St. Longinus and the story of the woman caught in adultery (Jesus writes things in the sand, etc) without being clear in implications?
We never see the two in the adulterous act, no, but it's nearly impossible to miss that it was going to happen.
But these are the stories of saints, and even those situations are dealt with properly. Still, one must be aware that they exist and are not excluded for the sake of the reader's age.
That, I think, is the beauty of de Wohl: he tells it like it is. He doesn't try to show us how perfect our heroes were. But when one really thinks about it, what is a hero without struggles and failures? Jesus is our only hero who did not fail and it must remain so. All our other heroes struggled and failed--again and again. What about that saying, "Even the saints sinned seven times a day"? Well de Wohl does not neglect to show us that truth.
Part of the beauty in a hero is seeing how they overcame their struggles. The struggles and failures never go away, but how the hero dealt with them is what we are inspired by. I guess I just don't see another explanation for fascination with St. Augustine of Hippo. He was bad. Then, he was great.
Don't we all want that?
That's what Louis de Wohl gives us. Mixed in his skillful and artistic sketches of historical life styles and crafty political situations, we get the stories of the heroes of our faith. Yes, among all that inappropriate content is the story of redemption.
Perhaps the reason it is so appeal is that it is our story.
Louis de Wohl tells it beautifully.