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Good loving set him free

28 November 2014

Christopher Landau on a frankly evangelical memoir

from the book

Communards-plus: Coles's mum, between him and (left) Jimmy Somerville

Communards-plus: Coles's mum, between him and (left) Jimmy Somerville

Fathomless Riches: Or how I went from pop to pulpit
Richard Coles
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT292 )

I SUSPECT that there is a moment in many households, a day or so after Christmas, when a book given as a festive gift is thumbed for the first time. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be entertaining scenes in some such households this year, when someone given a copy of the memoir by "that nice-sounding vicar off Radio 4" finds himself or herself unexpectedly catapulted into a world of illicit outdoor sex on page 4.

If the said reader - perhaps an elderly, churchgoing, Archers-listening aunt? - then puts down this book in disgust, it will be a great shame; for Richard Coles has achieved a rare thing in writing an astonishingly honest autobiography, which, alongside the sex and drugs, presents Christian faith in a way that will surely be invitingly intriguing to an audience well beyond the Church.

It is one of a few recently published books concerning faith - Francis Spufford's Unapologetic is another - which I could imagine giving to an agnostic friend without feeling embarrassed. And this is a deeply evangelical book, in the very best sense, offering an often movingly poignant account of a surprise adult re-engagement with Christian faith after the triumphs and ambiguities of pop stardom.

It was the novelist Sara Maitland who recommended that Coles attend a service at St Alban's, Holborn, in London, on the basis that it might be more engaging for him than his local church. (For those deeply "for the parish", it is a reminder of how many vocations are nurtured in those who have crossed parochial boundaries in search of an accessible entry-point to the Church.)

Coles notes wryly that he must be "one of the very few people in the Church of England to have gone to a solemn high mass at St Alban's, Holborn, and there experienced a classic Protestant conversion."

Coles has a gift for headline-style openings to paragraphs: "I don't think I really believed in evil until I went to Mirfield" is one classic ex- ample. On countless pages, shrewd observations about contemporary society, and occasionally biting comment about the Church, is couched in the elegant turn of phrase well-known to listeners to Radio 4's Saturday Live, which Coles co-presents.

This is an immensely enjoyable memoir, whether a reader's primary interest is the music industry, the impact of AIDS, the Church of England, or a wonderfully Anglican combination of all three. So, a Christmas read to be highly recommended - although not, perhaps, for absolutely every relative in need of a last-minute gift. 

The Revd Christopher Landau is Assistant Curate of St Luke's, West Kilburn, and Emmanuel Church, Harrow Road, in London, and is a former reporter for BBC Radio 4's World at One and PM.

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