Thursday, January 06, 2011

Reader's Diary #677- Linden MacIntyre: The Bishop's Man

Of all the angles that Linden MacIntyre could have taken with The Bishop's Man I was quite surprised that he didn't.

The story of a Catholic priest who specializes in brushing deviant priests under the carpet, this could have gone in many different directions. It could have been grotesquely graphic. It could have been a scathing indictment of the Catholic Church. It could have been an overly forgiving piece about the fallibility of humankind.

That MacIntyre didn't choose any of these approaches was not only surprising, but pleasantly surprising. Not that it was a pleasant book, topic-wise, but the unexpectedness was appreciated.

Set primarily in small town Nova Scotia, I was impressed with how real the people and the setting felt. Growing up in small town Newfoundland, I can say that MacIntyre got it right. Except for the Catholic stuff. I can't comment on that because I have no idea. The town I grew up in had no Catholic church at all, nor did any of the surrounding communities. Admittedly, until Mount Cashel hit the news, I didn't even know we had Catholics in the province. So, the idea of families befriending a priest, or trusting one, as they do in The Bishop's Man, and as many do in real life, is a relatively new idea to me.

Which may have been part of the reason why I enjoyed The Bishop's Man. Father Duncan MacAskill, the Bishop's man himself, is a very human character. Flawed and complex, the more I got to know about him, the more questions I had. Excellent. But as I said above, this wasn't about forgiving people simply for their humanity. This is a story about the loss of trust. Mistrusting others. Mistrusting oneself. It's a cancer. While the abusive priests in the Bishop's Man are the carcinogens, this really isn't their story. Thank God.


Chrisbookarama said...

I haven't read this yet. I've had issues with his writing style in the past. Though I can hope that he's changed.

Growing up in a very Catholic town (4 Catholic churches in a small town), I've heard that there are a lot of bitter and disappointed people now in my old town who are leaving their church. So I get the idea of mistrust. Maybe I should give it a read at some point.

Kate said...

I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this one too! I read it while visiting my sister and her 2 young children so was also glad that it didn't become overly graphic. The timing of this book was almost spooky - it was released shortly before Bishop Lahey of Antigonish was arrested for possession of child pornography...

John Mutford said...

Chrisbookarama: Though I've a few sitting on my shelf, I haven't read anything else by him. What are your issues with his writing?

Kate: Spooky timing, especially as it was in Nova Scotia this time, but with such stories appearing as often as they do, the timing was likely to land on or near a similar headline. Just this morning I read this.

Jodie Robson said...

Interesting comments, John - I've just started this book, and like the writing style so far. Good to know that you think it feels authentic as to setting. We've been quite aware of some of the issues it covers too, as there has been a great deal of anger in Ireland. It's a book I'm planning to review this month.

Wanda said...

Still haven't blogged about it but this was one of my better reads from last year. Growing up RC in small town NS myself, this book felt more like visiting with friends and had me looking at old memories with new eyes.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I've been meaning to read this book for quite some time. I'm happy to hear that MacIntyre pulls this off without resorting to cliches.

Chrisbookarama said...

In one of his early books, he wrote in half sentences. I don't mind a sprinkling of them for effect but he overused them and it got on my nerves.

John Mutford said...

Geranium Cat: I imagine in Ireland, where Catholicism is such a part of the identity, tensions run even higher for these kind of stories.

Wanda: Some of them did feel like people I knew. Not that I could compare them with specific individuals, but they certainly would have fit in.

Barbara: Though I have read reviews where people think he did go down the cliche path, especially in terms of the alcoholism. I think he handled it quite well.

Chris: I just had to pick up the book again to see whether or not he was still using sentence fragments. The first page I turned to:
"There was a sudden commotion in the kitchen. Loud greetings. And a gust of cheer and chilly air."

So maybe you wouldn't like his style this time around either. I obviously didn't realize notice at the time. However, looking at the paragraph above again, and remembering the scene in a larger context, I think he at least uses it here to good effect.