3 out of 4 stars
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A woman walks into a church with jumbled thoughts and confusing, overlapping emotions tormenting her. The only thing she is sure about is the unbearable guilt she feels. The woman, Jennifer Robertson, decides to tell her story from the start in hopes of forgiveness. Jenny is a UK citizen who headed for Iran to work as a teacher, eventually meeting and marrying Juan Miguel, a secretary of the Spanish Embassy. She learned there was more to her husband's work, however, as the couple found themselves witnessing major historical events across the world from up close. Their marriage was further challenged when Juan Miguel started showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s later in life.
James G. Skinner's When a conscience knocks feels almost like two different novels in the same book. The first portion focuses on international history and politics as the story intertwines with historical events from the 1970s to the early 2000s: the Iranian Revolution, the Falklands War, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, etc. We view these events from the perspective of civilians and those working behind the scenes collecting and analyzing information. The author has clearly done his research, embedding even small details, such as state leaders' travel schedules, into the plot. History buffs will not be disappointed.
The second portion of the book is far more character-driven, emphasizing psychological exploration. Its main theme is how an illness affects both the patient and, particularly, the caregivers. Without coming across as judgmental, the story raises complex ethical dilemmas and points out the emotional burden carried by family members and friends in these situations.
Readers who dislike stream-of-consciousness in literature might be put off by the novel's style, which makes heavy use of sentence fragments and conversational language ("I arrived early. See if I could talk to the priest before mass. Found him"). This gives the narrative a personal tone and provides an intimate look at the main character's mental and emotional state. For example, the narration in the first chapter is filled with digressions and loosely connected ideas, reflecting Jenny's inner turmoil.
When a conscience knocks offers a unique blend of themes that might not please everyone. Readers interested in drama and character exploration could find the first part boring, while readers who enjoy international politics face the risk of being disappointed by the second part of the story. Those willing to give both sides of the novel a chance, however, will experience a great literary journey across historical events and deep aspects of the human condition. I rate the book 3 out of 4 stars, detracting one point for the unfortunate number of grammatical and typographical errors. When a conscience knocks is meant for a mature audience, featuring profanities and mild sex scenes.
When a conscience knocks
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