Book Review: ‘The Sunken Cathedral’ Is Almost Impossible To Comprehend

sunken cathedral

Review by Ann McDonald

‘The Sunken Cathedral’ is a novel that follows a cast of characters as they negotiate one of Manhattan’s swiftly changing neighborhoods, extreme weather, and the unease of twenty-first-century life.

On the surface of this story, we are introduced to Marie and Simone, survivors of World War II and immigrants to New York. They are elderly ladies but vital in their outlook on life. Widows now, their past friendship has survived for decades. Their whole universe is comprised of a few friends, Helen is an Art Historian who draws Marie and Simone to a painting class where they meet Sid Morris, the instructor and he awakens long lost feelings in the ladies.

Then there is Elizabeth, Marie’s upstairs tenant who is unfulfilled. These are the players you meet on a regular basis so you get to know them in fits and starts. On the other hand, characters are introduced to the storyline via footnotes, that slip in and out at apparently random points. It is an unusual way to relate a narrative. On one level, the main story continues and on the second footnote level, you have apparent tangents, providing you don’t mind interrupting the central story to concentrate on the second, you might make some sense of it and blend it into a whole and make your way around this book.

Personally, I have not encountered this particular method of telling a story except in the classics where the footnotes were essential. I felt bewildered a lot of the time because I could not marry the two together and I realized there was no story as such. Author Kate Walbert takes you into the minds of age, loves, loss and death. Once you are gone, you are a memory until it is their turn and life and death go on. I cannot in all honesty, rate this book, maybe down the years I’ll read it again and find the story. Then again, maybe not. There isn’t one.

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Ann McDonald

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