In today’s review, we’re taking a break from fiction and looking at a work by the illustrious C. S. Lewis. This is another of his allegories, so buckle up; it’s about to be a somewhat wild ride! (And hmm, I guess it does still qualify as fiction…)
Title: The Great Divorce
Author: C. S. Lewis
Genre: Allegory; Satire
Rating: 3/5 stars
Overview: What an interesting little book… It was on my list of C. S. Lewis’ classic works, so I picked it up for a bit of light reading on a Sunday afternoon. I hadn’t read the back cover, so I wasn’t sure what I was about to get into. I certainly wasn’t expecting this… odd… parable about life after death. Lewis presents the afterlife as a kind of eternal choice. That is, the characters all begin in Hell (or is it Purgatory, or even Heaven?), and they have the opportunity to either stay in this “lesser Heaven” and eventually attain the “Real Heaven” or go back to Hell. This premise didn’t exactly fit into my understanding of eternity, so I had a few issues with it, to say the least. But it was also intriguing.
Characters: The narrator meets with a variety of people who have come from Hell to visit this land on the brink of Heaven. They are all caricatures of a specific kind of person. For example, there is a woman who has tyrannized over her husband and can’t understand why he never thanked her for all she did for him; a man who became so obsessed with his art that he no longer saw the beauty in the subjects he depicted; a woman who poured all her “love” into her son and idolized him at the expense of her husband and daughter. These are all portrayed in an astonishingly accurate and relatable fashion.
Content: There are a few swear words in the book, which somewhat detracted from my enjoyment of it. There are also a couple of references to sexual things (portrayed as sins to be avoided).
As mentioned above, my biggest issue was Lewis’ depiction of the afterlife. He never comes straight out and says that he thinks people have a choice about their eternal destination after they die—and in fact, one character actually says that that’s not what this whole vision is about—but it was hard to understand what else he could be talking about. The narrator even has a conversation with George MacDonald (which was my favorite part of the book, by the way) about Universalism, insisting that the Apostle Paul also taught that all people will be saved in the end. (Which he doesn’t.) Basically, there was a lot going on in this book that, at face value, I don’t agree with.
Writing: Lewis is a master at allegory, and this book was no exception. While I don’t really agree with all the points he was trying to make, I can’t argue with the beauty and cleverness of his writing. He portrays people in such pointed ways, and he somehow manages to make this speculation about the afterlife somewhat manageable to the average human being.
Summary: This isn’t my favorite of Lewis’ books. There’s a lot of stuff going on here—definitely more than I should have taken in over the course of one afternoon. But though I don’t agree with a lot of the book, it was still a fascinating look into how our choices on earth affect our eternity. I would recommend it to adults with a firm grasp on their own understanding of eternity.