This is a post-apocalyptic book centred around a Catholic monastery in the middle of a desert and the story is split into three parts approximately 600 years apart. Shortly after the 20th century warring countries fired numerous nuclear bombs at one another at set off the Flame Deluge. The Simplification happens in response to this where the survivors first attack and execute the scientists and engineers who created the weapons and eventually turn on anyone who can read. The monastery is founded in order to preserve whatever remnants of written material remains even if they have no idea what it means so that civilization can be refounded once the people are ready for it. In the second part of the book learning is again appreciated and the story focuses on the struggles between the religious authorities and the secular scientists. The third part has civilization with advanced technology and space colonies but also atomic weapons once again.
I liked the cyclical nature of the text and that people don't ever really change. We're destined to continue destroying ourselves until there's nothing left. I thought this point was beautifully highlighted by the presence of the vultures.
Apart from enjoying the overall idea, I was highly disappointed with this novel. I had read lots of really good things about it and knew it had won several notable awards but I did not enjoy it for some reason. I didn't become attached to any of the characters and the pilgrim/Benjamin/Lazarus thing didn't make sense. I found the extensive use of Latin highly distracting and somewhat unrealistic. The thought that English didn't survive but Latin was used somewhat regularly is highly improbable. If the book was set in Italy I might accept it a little easier but this was in "Texarcana" a region I took to be Texas area. I'm pretty sure most Catholic priests in America are not fluent in Latin apart from memorizing select prayers and certainly not enough to for it to be a major language of communication. I just found it to be highly distracting.
My general apathy towards this book makes me give it a 2/5 and I'm glad I'm finished with it.
Certain parts of the novel reminded me of John Wyndham's The Chrysalids but that was a book I highly enjoyed.
I did really like this quote though:
"The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they- this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that Man might hope again in wretched darkness"