Reviews of ‘Tongues of Flame’

My Brother, the Witch

New York Times Book Review, January 4th, 1987

By Meg Wolitzer

Many novels about adolescence contain scenes in which the young protagonist is placed under extreme peer pressure, commonly involving drugs or cigarettes or premature sex acts. In Tongues of Flame, the hero undergoes peer pressure of an unusual variety: to fit in, 15-year-old Richard Bowen must start speaking in tongues. All around him people are doing it; wherever he looks, it seems, someone is muttering nonsense words in a corner.

Tim Parks opens his first novel in 1968, in the wealthy, suburban English vicarage where Richard’s father presides over an ordinary, peaceful parish. Enter Donald Rolandson, a young curate who brings with him the “Sword of the Spirit,” and with it a frenzy of religious fanaticism. Soon everyone in the parish has become obsessed, everyone, that is, except Richard. Tongues of Flame – initially rejected by six agents and 20 publishers, and last year’s winner of England’s Somerset Maugham Award for writer’s under 35 – is a hilarious and original portrait of a young boy grappling with good and evil, two concepts that have been instilled in him by his fanatical but well-intentioned father. According to Richard’s father, Satan is lurking everywhere, manifesting himself in “Chairman Mao, the Russians, the Vietnamese, the left-wing of the Labour Party, the unions, drugs, pornography, sex outside marriage, and certain types of modern music.”

Mr. Parks (don’t you love the Mr?) has a good eye for period detail, and he gives us a convincing illustration of British provincial life at a time when the world, according to Richard, was characterized by “an explosion of new hairstyles and new religions.” Although larger, political turbulence is alluded to throughout, for Richard the most visible turbulence can be found in his own home, where the drama is of a religious and, as it turns out, a sexual nature. Sexuality is embodied by Richard’s older brother, Adrian, who openly sneers at the fanaticism that surrounds him and seeks fulfilment instead in smoking pot and sleeping with his girlfriend. As the Bowen family becomes more and more obsessed with big ideas about Satan, Adrian’s way of life is tolerated less and less. Adrian is a complicated character; the author doesn’t fall prey to making him a sensitive young rebel of the James Dean school, but instead fleshes Adrian out, making him both nihilist and hedonist, and a force to reckon with. Adrian is extremely bright, with “a mind like a scalpel,” according to Mr. Bowen, who goes on to tell his older son that he should treat Richard and his sister, Anna, kindly, for they “weren’t that bright in the end,” but that everybody is “equal under God.”

Richard meekly absorbs his father’s perception of him, and this helps set Adrian’s specialness into relief. To Richard, and finally to everyone in the community,Adrian is extremely powerful. In an ordinary late-6O’s household, Adrian would be viewed as just another sullen teen-ager with all the accouterments of the breed: long, unkempt hair, loud music and telltale smoke emanating from the bedroom. But in the Bowen household these elements are eventually decoded as “signs,” proof that Satan himself lives upstairs. The novel’s climactic scenes take place during the church’s annual Youth Fellowship house party, a religious retreat for teen-agers held at a ramshackle boarding school. The special guest lecturer this year is Joy Kandinsky, an American evangelist in a pink pantsuit. She tells an impassioned story about a young homosexual man who was eventually “cuorange” through the Lord, and then she goes on to announce that there is someone in the room who is tortuorange by homosexual longing, and she urges him or her to come forward and be saved. Richard, who throughout the novel has remained curious but neutral about matters both religious and sexual, is forced at this point to examine his entire identity, as well as the identities of those around him. He realizes that he must start to form opinions and choose sides.

This realization is heightened by an outright witch hunt, of which Adrian is the quarry. A posse is formed to track down Adrian, who has been openly avoiding lectures and has been having sex with his girlfriend on the grounds of the boarding school. Richard watches in horror as his brother is apprehended, and a ritual exorcism ensues. This scene is perhaps the most powerful in the novel, and we hear a new voice emerging from Richard; one that is fierce and surprising.

What happens next feels extraneous, tacked on by the author for the sake of action, when the most interesting action is internal. As one brother is exorcised of “evil” the other brother, in a sense, is exorcised of passivity. Tongues of Flame approaches the notion of transformation on many levels – religious, sexual, emotional and intellectual. With all his inexperience and timidity throughout much of the book, Richard is a perfect character to embody that idea.

51 thoughts on “Reviews of ‘Tongues of Flame’

  1. plexiclash

    Hi there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading through your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same topics? Thanks!

  2. hack defender 3

    I wanted to write you that very little observation in order to thank you so much as before considering the spectacular suggestions you have documented at this time. It’s quite surprisingly open-handed with people like you to provide without restraint precisely what many of us could have offered as an e-book to make some bucks on their own, primarily now that you could have done it in case you wanted. Those suggestions also acted as the easy way to fully grasp that other people have a similar dreams like mine to figure out somewhat more with regard to this matter. I’m certain there are some more fun sessions in the future for individuals who scan your blog post.

  3. fortnite download pc windows 10

    I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one these days..

  4. mcent hack

    We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your site provided us with valuable information to work on. You have done a formidable job and our entire community will be thankful to you.

  5. Yoshiko Matute

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to read?

  6. stickman legends cheat codes

    Interesting blog post. A few things i would like to bring about is that computer memory is required to be purchased if your computer can no longer cope with what you do along with it. One can deploy two random access memory boards of 1GB each, for example, but not certainly one of 1GB and one of 2GB. One should check the car maker’s documentation for one’s PC to make sure what type of memory is needed.

  7. gamefly free trial

    Great post. I used to be checking constantly this blog and I am inspired!
    Very helpful info particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such
    information a lot. I used to be looking for this particular information for a very long
    time. Thank you and good luck.

  8. gamefly free trial

    That is very interesting, You are a very professional blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and look forward to in search of more of your
    excellent post. Also, I have shared your website in my social networks

  9. gamefly free trial

    Have you ever thought about creating an e-book or guest authoring
    on other websites? I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would love
    to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would appreciate
    your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send
    me an e mail.

  10. gamefly free trial

    It’s truly a great and helpful piece of info. I’m satisfied that you simply shared this useful info
    with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

  11. gamefly free trial

    I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as no one
    else know such detailed about my difficulty. You’re amazing!

  12. gamefly free trial

    Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
    I mean, what you say is important and all. Nevertheless think of
    if you added some great pictures or videos to give your posts more,
    “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and videos, this blog could undeniably
    be one of the most beneficial in its field. Great blog!

  13. gamefly free trial

    I think this is one of the most significant info for me.

    And i am glad reading your article. But want to remark on some general things,
    The web site style is ideal, the articles is really great : D.
    Good job, cheers

  14. gamefly free trial

    My programmer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP.
    I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses.
    But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on a variety of websites
    for about a year and am worried about switching to another platform.

    I have heard great things about Is there a way I can transfer all
    my wordpress posts into it? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  15. gamefly free trial

    I was suggested this web site by way of my cousin. I am not sure whether or not this submit is written by him as nobody
    else recognise such specified about my problem. You are incredible!

  16. gamefly free trial

    Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive
    a 40 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now destroyed
    and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share
    it with someone!

  17. playstation 4 games

    Undeniably consider that which you stated. Your favourite
    justification seemed to be at the internet the easiest factor to understand of.
    I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people think
    about worries that they plainly do not recognize about.
    You controlled to hit the nail upon the
    top and defined out the entire thing with no need side-effects ,
    other folks can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more.
    Thank you

  18. Guqinz

    hello there and thank you for your information ?I抳e certainly picked up anything new from right here. I did however expertise several technical points using this site, as I experienced to reload the website lots of times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your web host is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but slow loading instances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and could damage your high quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords. Anyway I am adding this RSS to my email and could look out for a lot more of your respective interesting content. Ensure that you update this again soon..

  19. quest bars cheap

    Right now it sounds like BlogEngine is the preferred blogging platform
    available right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?

  20. Free Stuff

    Heya i抦 for the first time here. I found this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to give something back and help others like you helped me.

  21. Freebies

    Thanks for your submission. I also think that laptop computers have grown to be more and more popular right now, and now are usually the only kind of computer found in a household. The reason being at the same time actually becoming more and more affordable, their computing power is growing to the point where they’re as highly effective as desktop coming from just a few years ago.


    I seriously love your site.. Great colors & theme.
    Did you build this website yourself? Please reply back as I’m wanting to create my own site and would like
    to learn where you got this from or exactly what the theme is
    named. Thanks!

  23. Free Samples

    Howdy, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just curious if you get a lot of spam feedback? If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or anything you can recommend? I get so much lately it’s driving me crazy so any support is very much appreciated.

  24. quest bars cheap

    Do you have a spam problem on this site; I also am a blogger, and I was
    curious about your situation; we have created some nice procedures and we are looking to swap solutions with other folks,
    why not shoot me an email if interested.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *