*** DEBUG END ***

Virgin and Child, by Maggie Hamand

29 May 2020

Caroline Bowder finds a story far-fetched but ultimately engaging

AT FIRST I thought, “Oh no! Not another novel about the Vatican and wayward priests…” But I became quickly engaged. Yes, there is scandal and intrigue, but the core of the novel has an unusual premise, with unexpected consequences.

At the centre is a newly installed, 55-year-old Irish Pope, Patrick. He is atypical, keeping his own name rather than choosing a pontifical one. He also has family issues: an unstable young female cousin who has lost too many pregnancies, andparents who kept the truth of his birth and rare physicality from him; and he struggles with the isolating burden of being the Pope.

As events quickly unfold towards a barely credible outcome, which it would be a shame to reveal, the reader is gripped with a sort of horrified sympathy. Patrick is dragged through events that make him finally understand what women go through, and what true love, bravery, and sacrifice are.

Maggie Hamand deals with Patrick’s fear of doctors, sex, conspiracies, and the Vatican itself in a lively and sympathetic way. As the author of books about how to write (NB the hugely successful Creative Writing for Dummies), she illustrates here exactly how to keep the reader with her. Her theological qualifications give her a familiarity with religious practice and doctrine (though in Catholic Ireland I think it’s “Our Father who”, not “which”); there are the questions of limbo, gender, and, crucially, the vagaries of pregnancy: and she refers to contemporary Irish events — the Kerry Babies, and a refused abortion that leads to a mother’s death — which lend relevance to the novel. And there are elements of the thriller: conspiracy, attempted murder, a car-chase through Rome.

Expertly, she convinces us to the point where we willingly suspend disbelief. And has a miracle occurred? Read the book.


Virgin and Child
Maggie Hamand
Barbican Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)