It is London in the late 1950s. William Maginn is a literary editor who believes he has left the Ireland of his childhood behind when one of his relatives and drinking partners tells him the mysterious story of "a dead village up in the mountains" in County Kerry, involving "a trial that shamed the town". Travelling back to Kerry, Maginn begins to trawl the court records, where he stumbles across the deposition of Father Hugh McGreevy, the unfortunate priest of the village who died. The majority of the rest of the terrible story is told in the words of the priest, who insists that "I kept a Christian community together in its extremity, and prevented it, through the grace of God as conveyed by his sacraments, from falling into barbarity". The story is an unabating one of misery, suffering and ignorance, as over the space of two winters the small rural village first loses all its women to sickness, and then descends into bestial and pagan acts, as Father Hugh tries in vain to keep his flock together, with the Second World War a distant "echo" on the wireless.
Short-listed for the Booker Prize, The Deposition of Father McGreevy is an elegant, unrelenting story of the disintegration of an Irish way of life as institutional religion, nationalism and the darker forces of human nature conspire to destroy a people and a place that O'Doherty evokes with great pathos. Musing on the Father's deposition, Maginn ponders "I'm not sure what it tells us beyond the fact that there are some good people, some bad people, and a lot of people who are one or the other depending on the circumstances". The moral may be simple, but as the Irish would say, it's the way that you tell it. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
What was the cause of the destruction of an Irish mountain village? In the fictive memoir that makes up the bulk of this book, the village's priest recounts the macabre events that began with the swift deaths of six women in the winter of 1939, and ended with the village deserted, himself defrocked, others dead, rumors of men copulating with beasts and a man charged with murdering his own son. Father McGreevy vows to be "as honest as I can in this deposition, and the word can't help but bring to mind the Deposition of Our Lord Himself from the Cross." Trying to explain what he has seen, he draws on Catholic theology, Irish history and folklore and Irish-language literature. Are his parishioners victims of S! (vengeful Irish spirits)? Of the forces fighting in WWII? Of an angry God seeking a sacrificial lamb? The fictitious London editor William Maginn introduces Father McGreevy's manuscript in a prologue set in the 1950s; in two concluding chapters, Maginn interviews the disaster's aged survivors, climbs the mountain where it all happened and meditates on Irish history. O'Doherty (The Strange Case of Mademoiselle P.) works overtime with local color, pathos and religious symbolism in this elaborately constructed homage and elegy to rural, Gaelic Ireland. Lamb (or scapegoat) symbols are everywhere, and MaginnAwho annotates McGreevy's accountAcan be all too eager to help us interpret: "The dead village, with its lost memories, reached back to similar desolations... " McGreevy's own style veers between believable dialect and over-the-top stage-Irish ("It was grand to be out in God's good air those summer days that went on forever"). His first-person narration can be hard to take: "'Is it talking to me you are, Father?' I hit her on the head with a heavy hand. I couldn't help it." Readers will surely enjoy the history and myth O'Doherty spins out here, however, and the harrowing plot he imagines.
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