The Shadow Doctor by Adrian Plass
Plass's latest book is challenging, raw and refreshing - and brings us back to Jesus
The Shadow Doctor
By Adrian Plass
Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN No: 978-1-444-74547-4
Reviewed by: Jeannie Kendall
Occasionally I get asked what I read if spiritually I feel in need of a boost. The answer usually surprises people – I say that I either read The Lion the Witch or the Wardrobe, or one of Adrian Plass’ books. You will, therefore, correctly suspect some bias on my part as I review this much more recent book!
Adrian Plass has a rare capacity to tell stories with both humour and poignancy, a result of his ability to carefully scrutinise the peculiarities of human nature (and its expression in the church). He does so in a way which punctures our self-important posturing or silliness, but somehow without ever being demeaning or undermining.
This story tracks the story of Jack, who has recently lost his grandmother, and his relationship with a rather enigmatic figure – the Shadow Doctor of the title - whose details were in his grandmother’s last letter.
At the beginning of the book, Jack is worn out with shoring up his own faith by helping others and “was turning into a husk of himself… a false identity was still better than no identity at all but it was becoming harder and harder to maintain”.
The shadow doctor invites him to stay, and indeed to help him in his work. The book describes their interactions with some of the people they encounter, their developing friendship and the challenge each is to the other. It ends in a way which would allow for a sequel. Personally, I very much hope so.
The book is full of challenging statements from the lips of either or the two men, or those they meet, and some people may find them difficult. For example, if you take in isolation the declaration that “prayer does not work”, or the shadow doctor’s assertion that he is sick of hearing that answers to prayer are Yes, No or Wait, some might feel the need immediately to rush to the defence (of God? Or our own need for certainty?).
But rein in that desire and read on, and he has the most refreshing things to say.
Similarly with the comment that Christianity does not work. It is important to read the whole conversation (indeed the whole book) with an open mind. There are some simply wonderful phrases in it that encapsulate so much: his use of words are a delight.
It is clear from the dedication that this was a difficult book to write. I don’t know all the reasons, but I am not surprised. A raw but necessary honesty bleeds from many of the pages.
Equally though (and this is why I return to his books so often), it brings us back to Jesus. Following him is never predictable, and our attempts to tie up anything neatly (to keep us feeling safe or stave off our fear of the world’s or our own darkness) serve us badly.
Sometimes it is only as we cast off our assumptions and well-worn responses to life and faith, like old clothes that might be comfortable in their familiarity but no longer fit too well, that the fresh wind of the Spirit can move through our weary lives and show us Jesus again.
Jeannie is co-minister of Carshalton Beeches Baptist Church