October 18, 2009

The Bishop's Man - Linden MacIntyre

I chose to begin my Giller Shortlist read-athon with this book, since it was one that I had previously looked at in the bookstore, and probably would have read eventually even if it hadn't been nominated. And I wasn't disappointed.

Basically, it is a fictionalized account of the abuse that happened in the Catholic church that came to light over the past 15 years or so. And talk about timely. The week before the shortlist was announced, Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish (Nova Scotia), who had previously worked to negotiate deals for people who had been abused by priests, was charged with possession of child pornography. In the book, the protagonist, Fr MacAskill, the "Bishop's Man," is a priest who is the right-hand man to the bishop of Antigonish, and whose main job over the years has been dealing with priests who stepped out of line. Unfortunately, both in the book and in real life, dealing with these wayward priests usually only meant shuffling them to a different diocese, province, or country. The book deals with the fall-out of this, as what happened begins to become publicly known.

While difficult in subject matter, I found this book to be very gripping and easy to read. I was reading it over the Thanksgiving weekend while staying with my sister, and my biggest fear was that I was going to finish it before I got home, and be stranded with nothing to read! (I, in fact, finished it in the Toronto airport on my way home while waiting for my flight to depart.) Admittedly, some of the foreshadowing is a bit heavy-handed, but it is balanced out by the fact that some of the foreshadowing was a red herring so I was surprised when the events unfolded. And I thought that the ending was just about perfect - all of the main loose ends tied up, with just enough ambiguity to make it realistic.

If I have one criticism, it is that the characters were a bit wooden and two-dimensional at times. Yes, Fr. MacAskill is an alcoholic, but you don't have to have him pouring himself a drink or two every second sentence. And he is a bit thick not to have recognized himself as an alcoholic, especially given his past work. And the people that he encounters don't get developed very far, with a few exceptions. But this could be because the story is told as a first-person narrative. If I were telling the story of my life, do I know the people around me well enough to make them come alive on the page? Were the characters in the book flat because the author couldn't make them rounded, or because his narrator isn't able to see them as rounded?

But it was a good read, despite all of that. And as I'm already half way through my next Giller book, so stay tuned for that review.


John Mutford said...

"Were the characters in the book flat because the author couldn't make them rounded, or because his narrator isn't able to see them as rounded?"

I love this question. But if it is the narrator's fault, maybe he's not the best choice for a narrator?

Kate said...

I had to think on your question for a day before answering. I think that this would be a fault of any character narrating a book from a first person perspective. If I were writing a novel about my life, I would have a very well rounded view of some people I know (my sisters, a few good friends), but would have a very 1-dimensional view of others (co-workers, clients). So does that mean that I should never be the narrator of a book?

Wanda said...

I received this book back in August as a gift from my daughter. It continues to gather dust for now though, as I work my way through a few others first. Being raised Catholic in NS and even serving on the altar in my pre-teen years puts The Bishop's Man on my must read list. I did raise an eyebrow when I heard it made the Giller shortlist so soon after the Bishop Lahey affair came to light.

Kate said...

Wanda - there are parts that will probably make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. What I found the creepiest was how the church worked so hard at keeping everything that was going on covered up. I'm interested to hear what you think of it after you read it.