The Sin Eater by Alice Thomas Ellis

sin-eaterThe Sin Eater by Alice Thomas Ellis (1977), 192 pages

Set in Wales. A strong female lead. This book is about being an outsider; church; class; family. It felt like a unique book. More words that spring to mind in the reading: tentative, melancholic, bucolic.

A quote (from page 70):

Ermyn watched him, thinking what a pity it was that there was no war for him to excel in. He was quite wasted in peacetime in his dull civilian clothes and his dull civilian job. He would look magnificent in uniform, vermilion, gold and indigo — bring tears to the eyes dying gallantly at his post. Men were made for war. Without it they wandered greyly about, getting under the feet of the women, who were trying to organise the really important things of life. When they couldn’t make war men made money — and trouble and a dreadful nuisance of themselves. Ermyn had seen Rose sigh with exasperation when Henry dusted his shoes with the kitchen cloths, and Angela had said quite openly that she couldn’t bear to have Michael around all day …

The book isn’t nearly as anti-men as that sounds, though. This mainly gives a feel for the lovely writing. The language used is thrilling.

I laughed while reading this book; the characters are quirky and funny, in a way that reminds me of myself at points.

Ellis wrote The Sin Eater to voice her concern and frustration about the state of Christendom and the Catholic Church.

This was her first novel. Alice Thomas Ellis was a pen name of Anne Haycraft (1932-2005). More information about the author here, and her obituary, here.

I really liked this Common Reader edition, published by The Akadine Press (1998). The book cover bears no text — no reviews, no synopsis, no author information (The author information is inside.), and this was refreshing. I often don’t allow myself to read the cover text (well, other than title and author, etc.) because it too frequently gives away too much of the story. Since I’d already determined I wanted to read this book through other channels, it was nice to be able to get right into the story itself. (I posted about various covers on this book here.)

The Sin Eater is one of the books on the Image Journal Top 100 list I’m gradually making my way through.

I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.


10 responses to “The Sin Eater by Alice Thomas Ellis

  1. Sounds interesting – I love quirky characters.

  2. I’m putting this on my TBR list! It sounds great!

  3. I’m loving her use of words. It looks like its a verbal feast.

  4. Pingback: WG: Varying covers « Word Lily

  5. I’ve heard good things about this book. Thanks for the review.

  6. Oh, I remember seeing this book in the (much missed) Common Reader catalog. It was always tempting but it never made the order cut. Think I will look for it again.

  7. I recently got a copy of this book through PaperBackSwap. I’m so glad you reviewed it – it’s definitely a book I want to read this year!

  8. I’ve heard of another book with this same title (by Francine Rivers?). Thanks for your good review and the link to the Image 100 books.

  9. Brazil, I think the Francine Rivers title is The Last Sin Eater (I’ve read it, it’s on my shelf.).

  10. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: February 14, 2009 at Semicolon

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