Books & Literature

Book Review: Holy Woman, by Louise Omer

MEMOIR: Louise Omer was a Pentecostal preacher and faithful wife. But when her marriage crumbled, so did her beliefs.

Intelligent, vulnerable, and utterly beautiful.

Adelaide-based writer Louise Omer was a devoted member of the Pentecostal church and a devoted wife to the man she had been dating since they were both teenagers. In her late 20s, her marriage fell apart, and she found herself standing on a liminal threshold, questioning not just her marriage, but her church, her God, and her relationship to male authority figures.

Omer stepped over the threshold and took off for a backpacking adventure with a difference. She went on a search to find the feminine divine within the Abrahamic religions.

Travelling to Mexico to go on pilgrimage; to Sweden to talk to female pastors within a conservative church; to Ireland to witness the Repeal movement that finally decriminalised abortion; to Berlin to visit a female-lead Mosque: Omer packs a huge amount of travel, and research, into her journey. And although this is not a travelogue, seeing these places through the eyes of a searcher means a sparklingly fresh perspective on the idea of place itself, as well as her specific destinations.

Alongside the external journey is the all-important internal one. Holy Woman is collated into “Before” and “After”. The dividing line is the breakdown of her marriage, which leads to her questioning of male authority, both temporal and divine. Throughout the work, she refers to her ex-husband as He, thereby emphasising the way she conflated the authority of her male marriage partner with the authority of God and the Church.

Through these pages we are privy to the thoughts of the outlier teenager as she finds her tribe, and the first love of her life, in the Pentecostal church. We then travel with the adult woman as she reaches for the female divine across continents and across religions. This is also a journey of sexual discovery, as Omer sheds the restrictive sexuality of dogmatic Christianity, yet finds herself still submitting to the male, and seeing her sexual and corporal self as somehow “wrong”. The intense, sometimes heart-rending vulnerability which she shares is an incredible gift to the reader, leaving one feeling nothing but gratitude and respect. Few authors will strip themselves bare (literally and metaphorically) in the primal and honest way Omer does in this work.

Holy Woman is an intense read, and yet one which (like Omer’s God) never asks more of the reader than she is able to handle. Rigorous research is presented within a personal framework which makes it accessible and gives it a relatable context. The humility with which Omer approaches her search never tips into either self-pity or an inverted ego-trip. And above-all, Omer is simply a beautiful, beautiful, writer. She crafts sentences, paragraphs, and observations that sometimes take the breath away.

At its heart, this journey is one of self-discovery, wrapped around a spiritual search. It is about becoming an adult as much as it is about reaching out for the feminine divine. It is also about the “othering” which traditional religions encase in dogma, and how we can embrace the other through the divine.

“Queer people, who move between and beyond fixed notions of gender and sexuality, are much wiser to the reality of God, who is liberated from fixed personhood in his three-in-one identity of Father-Spirit-Son. This fluidity, then, embodies an expansive understanding of divine nature.”

This is a spiritual book which goes beyond the strictly religious to tap into an essence in all of us. It is an outstanding work of memoire, self-discovery, and feminist inquiry.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adeliade.

Distributed by: Scribe Publications
Released: July 2022
RRP: $29.99

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