Originally reviewed 29th January, 2013
I’ve been meaning to read this for, literally, years. I’m glad I finally got round to it. I was expecting something a bit more dry, I think, but actually A Canticle for Leibowitz is full of humour. There’s a lot of dark themes, yes, but there’s also a sort of understanding of human nature. A wry smile at our own expense.
How convincing you find it might depend on whether you believe the underlying idea: that we are more or less doomed to repeat history over and over. I don’t believe that, not really, but there is something painfully true in Canticle as well. It might also depend on your relationship to religion, which is very much central to the book — centred as it is around a monastery — although it treats that fairly lightly in some ways, and notes the ironies that creep in. The veneration, for example, of a man for all the wrong reasons.
One part that really made me uncomfortable is in the last section, which is a lot darker. Suddenly I was forced to question what the characters stood for, whether I stood with them. The whole debate about euthanasia for a child with radiation sickness — that made me feel ill, because I do believe in euthanasia, I don’t believe that pointless suffering should be prolonged and I don’t believe that any deity worth believing in would think so. But that, on reflection, is no bad thing — because despite the light touch, the wry smile, there’s a lot to think about here.