Something a bit different from me today. Canongate Books are adding Leaving Alexandria by Richard Holloway to their Canons collection. The Canons are what Canongate describe as “books without boundaries, some are classics already and the rest will be soon. You can find all five of Richard’s canons in the Scottish Canons collection here“. Canongate have organised a blogtour featuring several of Richard Holloway’s books and I was delighted to be asked to take part. So today I will be reviewing Leaving Alexandria, which is a memoir originally published in 2012 but now reissued to join the Canons collection.
It was fascinating to read about how a wee boy from the tenements of Glasgow ended up becoming one of the top clergymen in Scotland and equally fascinating to hear about how he wrestled with his doubts, eventually becoming agnostic or ‘post religionist’ as he has sometimes referred to himself.
The book is a very readable account of Richard Holloway’s early life, his time in college, working in Africa, in America, back in the poorer parts of Glasgow, and his support for sometimes controversial subjects, controversial for a clergyman anyway, such as LGBT rights. I was particularly interested to find out about the remarkable woman that was Lilias Graham, obviously a much loved and respected woman and a powerful advocate for improving the lives of the impoverished in the Gorbals despite her own well to do background.
What is clear is that this has been a life of questions and self doubt. I think it will be quite reassuring for many people to realise that anyone, no matter how confident they appear, no matter how high a position they have achieved in their working lives, can be plagued with self-doubt and confusion.
Leaving Alexandria is a very honest thought-provoking memoir, sharing thoughts and feelings which many people of faith, or indeed of no faith, will be able to identify with. A worthy addition to the Scottish Canons collection.
My thanks to Katie Huckstep at Canongate Books for inviting me to take part in the blogtour and for sending a copy of the book for review. In these difficult times, please order from a local bookseller if you are able to.
From the back of the book
At the tender age of fourteen, Richard Holloway left his home town of Alexandria, north of Glasgow, and travelled hundreds of miles to be educated and trained for the priesthood at an English monastery. By the age of twenty-five he had been ordained and was working in the slums of Glasgow. Through the forty years that followed, Richard touched the lives of many people as he rose to one of the highest positions in the Anglican Church. But behind his confident public faith lay a restless heart and an inquisitive mind. Poignant, wise and fiercely honest, “Leaving Alexandria” is a remarkable memoir of a life defined by faith but plagued by doubt.
About the author
Richard Holloway was Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. A former Gresham Professor of Divinity and Chairman of the Joint Board of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, he is a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Leaving Alexandria won the PEN/Ackerley Prize and was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. Holloway has written for many newspapers in Britain, including The Times, Guardian, Observer, Herald and Scotsman. He has also presented many series for BBC television and radio; Waiting for the Last Bus originated as a five-part series on Radio 4 in 2016.