The Monk Downstairs: A Novel

by Tim Farrington

Paperback, 2003





HarperOne (2003), Edition: Reprint, 304 pages


Rebecca Martin is a single mother with an apartment to rent and a sense that she has used up her illusions. I had the romantic thing with my first husband, thank you very much, she tells a hapless suitor. I'm thirty-eight years old, and I've got a daughter learning to read and a job I don't quite like. I don't need the violin music. But when the new tenant in her in-law apartment turns out to be Michael Christopher, on the lam after twenty years in a monastery and smack dab in the middle of a dark night of the soul, Rebecca begins to suspect that she is not as thoroughly disillusioned as she had thought. Her daughter, Mary Martha, is delighted with the new arrival, as is Rebecca's mother, Phoebe, a rollicking widow making a new life for herself among the spiritual eccentrics of the coastal town of Bolinas. Even Rebecca's best friend, Bonnie, once a confirmed cynic in matters of the heart, urges Rebecca on. But none of them, Rebecca feels, understands how complicated and dangerous love actually is. As her unlikely friendship with the ex-monk grows toward something deeper, and Michael wrestles with his despair while adjusting to a second career flipping hamburgers at McDonald's, Rebecca struggles with her own temptation to hope. But it is not until she is brought up short by the realities of life and death that she begins to glimpse the real mystery of love, and the unfathomable depths of faith. Beautifully written and playfully engaging, this novel. is about one man wrestling with his yearning for a life of contemplation and the need for a life of action in the world. But it's Rebecca's spirit, as well as her relationships with Mary Martha, Phoebe, her irresponsible surfer ex-husband Rory -- and, of course, the monk downstairs -- that makes this story shine.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member stephaniesmithrn
Well, I've been staring at the computer screen for about 5 minutes now trying to figure out what to write about this book. All I can come up with is, It was okay. I liked the relationships, I liked the characters, but the story line just didn't blow me away. Contrary to first impressions gleened from the title, the characters were very real and down to earth. A so-so read.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lindsayg
I loved this one. It's about a single mom who rents out her downstairs apartment to an ex-monk who has just left the monastery. An unlikely but, I thought, beautifully done love story results. The writing was lovely. I didn't want to put it down. An added bonus were the copies of the ex-monks letters in response to a persistent brother at his old monastery who keeps writing to him in his new life. The character development, the musings on faith, and the development of the relationship between the two main characters were all interwoven very well. The sequel is supposed to be coming out soon. I'll definitely be picking up a copy when it does.… (more)
LibraryThing member sfeggers
Touching story but definitely written by a man. The heroine is written in as a bit of an overwrought and emotional woman who finds it difficult to deal with life's crises without a good stable man to help her though. The letters in the book created an interesting spiritual dialogue for the hero, but seemed to be there to highlight the mature philosophical thoughts of the man who the more simplistic emotions of the woman.… (more)
LibraryThing member sjmccreary
The story of Rebecca, a divorced mother, and Mike, the recently retired monk who rents her downstairs in-law apartment. Rebecca is an artist who is working for an increasingly corporate graphic arts company, dates a man who diligently attends to their Relationship (always capitalized), and frets over her surfer-dude ex-husband who picks up their daughter smelling of marajuana. Mike, on the other hand, fresh out of the monastery after having "had a fight with my abbot ", has no job skills and no direction. He lands a job at McDonalds, begins tending Rebecca's neglected yard and garden, makes friends with her daughter, and struggles with the real reasons he left monastic life via a correspondence with Brother James, a younger monk.

Rebecca's mother, a middle-aged new-ager, is the first to reach out to Mike and draw him into society, at the same time forcing Rebecca to notice him as a man. As they become better acquainted, Rebecca and Mike each begin to see more clearly that what they thought they wanted from life may not be what they need. As events unfold, each is forced into actions they didn't plan to take.

While not a big fan of relationship stories, I enjoyed these characters. They are flawed but likable, and progress steadily throughout the book towards a realistic and satisfying relationship. The secondary characters, including the ex-husband, the Relationship guy, the boss, and the abbott, also are nicely handled and likewise grow and change in positive ways.

I would recommend this book, especially to anyone who does like this type of relationship story. There is a fairly strong element of spirituality, and much of the conflict swirls around this, but there is no overt "preaching". Likewise, there is an extra-marital sexual relationship, but nothing explicit is described. The edition I read contains group discussion questions in the back.
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LibraryThing member Katissima
An unexpectedly good love story, unexpectedly written by a man. There is something fascinating about the idea of an ex-monk, and Farrington deftly makes use of it. It is a sweet, engaging tale--not at all over the top.
LibraryThing member Othemts
Kind of a yawner of a monk who rebels against the church and ends up in philosophical conversations and a New Age romance with his landlady.
LibraryThing member Mumugrrl
The tagline on the back of the book said "A Love Story with a Twist: What Happens When God Is the Other Woman?" That pretty much sums up this gentle love story. A disillusioned monk leaves his calling to re-enter the world and meets a woman struggling to raise her daughter on her own.

I loved the dialogue between the two, and the way that they tentatively eased into a relationship that left both of them vulnerable. I especially enjoyed the letters the monk wrote back to a fellow monk that he'd left behind in the monastery, where you could track his spiritual path as he struggled to find his place in the world after a 20-year hiatius.

I understand there is a sequel to this book which I may or may not read as I thought this book was pretty much perfect just on its own.
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LibraryThing member markon
This is a book about the midlife crises of two people: a single mother, Rebecca, who rents her basement apartment to the 2nd, a man named Mike who has left the monastery after many years. Though the shape of the story is predictable, the writing and content made it a quick & moving read for me.

The book explores the interior landscapes of both characters as they struggle to come to terms with the failures and heartaches of their lives. It speaks to the centrality of love in human experience, and says some things about prayer and God that make sense to me.

My favorite quote from this book:

I suppose that I pictured an eternal rest by a heavenly poolside, with umbrella drinks served in the unimpeded sunlight. But we do not serve that larger Love by renouncing our particlar loves for some mystical lounge chair; we serve by being faithful to those loves,by suffering them wholly. We are born to love as we are born to die, and between the heartbeats of these two great mystweies lies all the tangled undergrowth of our tiny lives. There is nowhere to go but through. And so we walk on, lost, and lost again, in the mapless wilderness of love.
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LibraryThing member JenneB
Divorcee falls for ex-monk! Heartwarming, if you like that sort of thing. Sometimes I do.
Oh! and there's going to be a sequel called The Monk Upstairs. Haha.
LibraryThing member shelleyraec
Sometimes half stars would come in handy. I don't think i was in the right mood to appreciate this novel or perhaps I wanted to like it more than I did. The premise was interesting, a blossoming relationship between a single mother and her new tenant - an ex-monk suffering a crisis of faith after 20 years in the monastery. The characters are very likeable. As an atheist I was relieved that the religious aspect of the novel did not overpower the story - there is not any preaching, though there is a little theology. An easy read for romantics, tender, funny and quiet.… (more)
LibraryThing member kakadoo202
quick ok read. story is rather mediocre.
LibraryThing member bnbookgirl
#unreadshelfproject2019 - A truly boring book. I finished it because it was part of my challenge, but there was nothing about it that I found entertaining, intriguing, or interesting. Had hope for this one, it just didn't deliver.
LibraryThing member hardlyhardy
Can you imagine a tearful love story filled with as much spirituality as romance? Well, Tim Farrington could, and the result is his well-received 2002 novel “The Monk Downstairs.”

Rebecca is a 38-year-old divorced woman with a little girl and a devoted boyfriend whom she doesn't love but who won't stop asking her to marry him. Her ex-husband, who gets Mary Martha on weekends, spends his days surfing and smoking pot. To help make ends meet, Rebecca decides to rent out her small garage apartment.

The first person who inquires about it is Michael Christopher, who has spent virtually his entire adult life in a monastery. After differences with his superior, who thought Michael emphasized contemplation over work (as in the gospel story about Mary and Martha), he is now on his own in the real world. He carries all his possessions in a small bag. He gets the apartment, and soon like so many others gets his first job at McDonalds.

While the romantic relationship that builds gradually between Rebecca and Michael may seem predictable, the path Farrington takes the couple down is full of surprises. A lapsed Catholic, she doesn't think much of her tenant's contemplative nature either. That is, until his spiritual insights, combined with a gift of servanthood unrecognized at the monastery, help pull her through the crises that soon overwhelm her.

An intriguing cast of supporting characters, including Rebecca's irrepressible mother and her playboy boss, add substantially to the story.

Farrington, like Rebecca, was a Catholic who lost his way before finding it again. He actually spent part of his boyhood in a convent, where his aunt was a nun. So he knows the territory, and he makes the most of it in this intriguing novel.
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LibraryThing member MsRefusenik
I found jthis author in a mention by Julia Cameron. I love his books and now have read all of his fascinating, riveting books. This is the one I started with and I got ahold of the sequel The Monk Upstairs the day I finished it. Farrington writes about real human beings with quirks, strange notions, good hearts and love and compassion. This is a love story for readers who would not be caught dead with a romance paperback. It is deep, spiritually knowing, and shows not romance but unconditional love. The monk has just left the monastary after many years and isn't quite sure how to live life as a regular person. But he is anything but a regular person and his landlady is also a unique individual. Nothing in this or any of the author's books is full of cookie cutter plots and characters that we're all too familiar. It is joyous, refreshing and will stay with you a long time. I enjoyed that it takes place in San Francisco which brings all sorts of odd, independent, drug-using characters out.… (more)


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