on November 10, 2009
The Bishop's Man is a wonderful book. It explores the many facets which contributed to and resulted from the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, through the story of a priest in Cape Breton.
The book follows Father Duncan McAskill on his journey from a difficult childhood through a career as a priest. He has been used by his bishop to help in supppressing scandals by being the messenger who has notified priests that they are to be moved. As he struggles with the realities of a Church hierarchy in denial, the loneliness and isolation of priests in small communities and the heartbreaking sense of betrayal and confusion in the faithful laity, he comes to a personal crisis in his own vocation. The characters are wonderfully drawn,and realistic. The book reads like a thriller and once I started it, I did not want to put it down.
on November 9, 2009
I enjoyed this book immensely. As a Catholic, I was somewhat shocked and certainly disturbed to read about the commonplace nature of the demons that haunt priests. The book drives home the fact that they are men - human beings - and with that, have all the frailties and weaknesses that each of us have. But mostly, I found this a truly fascinating glimpse into the private lives of priests, especially the lonliness and isolation that plague so many of them. By definition, their lives are on the ouside of the bustling family business they oversee in their parishes.
I was drawn to this book and couldn't wait to finish it. When I did, I missed the main characted and still think about him, and the book, often. I highly recommend The Bishop's Man.
As soon as you read the sypnosis, you might groan in anticipation of some sordid journey into the loathsome depths of some scumbag religion's dark and dirty cellar. But you would be wrong. This is a book that tries, at least, to be fair about the Catholic church's overall legacy and function, realistically portraying the challenges that come up.
The protagonist is a clean-up man, designated by his bishop to sweep scandal under the rug. MacIntyre does a superb job of taking us inside the mind of this man, showing how his life of suppressing the human dignity of his victim in order to preserve the aura of institutional integrity has slowly drained him. At the same, as an intelligent, emotional being, he realizes this and is beginning to comprehend just how much of an impact his role in life is having. The book is about him slowly groping towards redemption.
The Globe and Mail reviewer put it well I think, when he/she said this book ultimately contains more contrition than redemption.
Also, in spite of the dark subject matter, this book uses suspense ably to compel the reader to turn the pages. So this is a literary book that actually has the potential to appeal to a fairly wide audience. About time, I'd say.
on December 8, 2009
I work at a bookstore, and whenever I tell people what The Bishop's Man is about they most often scrunch up their nose and say: "Oh, that's too depressing. I don't want to read about that." Or some variation of this. I decided to give the book a try myself, to see if it really was the depressing subject that people assumed. Although the issue of abuse within the church is a depressing subject, the way that it is handled in MacIntyre's book is not in such a way that it weighs so heavily on you that you feel you can't breathe--quite the opposite actually: the book is meditative, philosophical, and deals with a dark subject in a way that doesn't block out all the light.
The first person perspective probably has a lot to do with this, and was a good choice on MacIntyre's part. Father Duncan is a great character, a flawed character (but all great characters are) with a unique and comforting voice that guides us through the darkest parts of this tale of abuse, suicide, lost faith, and moral dilemmas. It can even be (gasp) funny at times.
I was pulled deep into the mystery of this story, and MacIntyre really works the mystery level, keeping the reader in the dark mostly about pivotal events in the book until the last fifty pages or so when things are finally revealed. This kind of secret keeping could have been a cheap trick to build suspense but MacIntyre managed it well for the most part, and kept me turning the pages for 4 hours straight one night in order to finish the thing.
The style is one of a time line that jumps around a bit, but is less confusing than it can be frustrating in its jaggedness. I found the scenes in the book to be written too short at times, as if I was getting little slices that were difficult to settle into as opposed to scenes I could really sink my teeth into and get comfortable with. This is a personal bias towards longer scenes in books, so might will be different for each reader. Personally, I could have done with a little less cut-and-paste and a little more of a longer flow in certain areas. The book is also very dialogue heavy, which works well because he writes dialogue well, but could also have been varied a bit. Much of the crucial information is revealed in conversation, whether flashback or current (well, as current as a story told from years later can be, as this one seems to be written as).
In the end, I like this book, but didn't love it. It was a good treatment of a hard subject which has been discussed much in our society as of late. Interesting to see it from the inside, from the view of a priest, and (from someone completely irreligious, as I am) a fascinating discussion of faith and morality and dedication within the church.
on September 17, 2009
Linden MacIntyre, an award winning author and journalist, has written a novel about a Cape Breton priest, Father Duncan MacAskill, and his life and work in a rural parish on the blessed island. The underlying tension comes from his reputation as the "Bishop's Man" who helps the church avoid scandal by moving troublesome clerics around, away, for treatment etc. But there is much more to this novel which is about a man struggling with himself, his calling, his hopes, memories and dreams. Clergy will recognize many of their own strains and stresses in this story. Lay people will find their own ministries challenged and confirmed. There are wonderful descriptions of the Cape Breton landscape and moods especially for those who live near the ocean. In spite of its dark themes, I ended reading this with a sense of hope and faith in the possibilities of redemption.
I would classify this novel as a thoughtful, fast-moving story that contains numerous undercurrents of human development leading to some eye-popping moments of illuminating truth. The main character, Father McAskill, has come home to the small town of Port Hood in lovely Cape Breton Island. His homecoming involves a mission to both counsel wayward clerics out of the priesthood and a time to address some personal needs. As the story unwinds, the reader is introduced to the complex world that McAskill lives in. Confronting him are the demands of the Church and his vows of celibacy which continually conflict with his very strong sense of justice and love for his family and friends. The writer portrays a man who wants to do the right thing when becoming spiritually involved in the lives of others, but deep and dark forces seem to conspire to make this calling problematic. He has to chase down and confront those former clergy who may not have been totally honorable in discharging their vows; in addition, he has to deal with the demons of alcholism in his own life resulting from a stressed-out life; and to cap it off, he has to pry into some of the devastating secrets that have daunted this sleepy little community for generations. What I found rewarding about the book is McIntyre's ability to maintain an involved plotline from start to finish while providing a fairly believable set of characters. The reader should have little problem getting involved in the lives people trying to live for the future while being daunted by blighted pasts. If there is any weakness in this novel it might lie in the fact that the story is too drawn out to bring about a measure of effective resolution at the end.
on January 9, 2010
This is a story of redemption and contrition rather than an expose of the predatory, paedophilic practices of the Catholic Church. It is different and well done in this respect.
The big 'however' from me is that the timelines are not always very clear and requires too much work from the reader as the writer is sometimes all over the place chronologically.
Many times, whilst reading, I had a sense of mild irritation at this contrivance. Two story-lines I can abide but once it's 3 or 4 the reading pleasure disappears for me.
That said, the writer is talented and has some wondrous turns of phrase and I felt the pain of the abusees. I also like the insider political machinations of the RC church which leaves God very much on the outside looking in. A study in hypocrisy.
on November 20, 2009
From an award-winning writer and one of Canada's foremost broadcast journalists, comes a deeply wise and moving novel that explores the guilty minds and spiritual evasions of Catholic priests.
Father Duncan MacAskill has spent most of his priesthood as the "Exorcist" -- an enforcer employed by his bishop to discipline wayward priests and suppress potential scandal. He knows all the devious ways that lonely priests persuade themselves that their needs trump their vows, but he's about to be sorely tested himself. While sequestered by his bishop in a small rural parish to avoid an impending public controversy, Duncan must confront the consequences of past cover-ups and the suppression of his own human needs. Pushed to the breaking point by loneliness, tragedy and sudden self-knowledge, Duncan discovers how hidden obsessions and guilty secrets either find their way to the light of understanding, or poison any chance we have for love and spiritual peace.
Another sure winner & true story:
Snowboarding, ice hockey, survival + much more; this book will blow your minds... just read the prologue & you will not put this book down until your final sigh as you close the cover! It is amazing, this inspirational book that will forever change you. The National Library of Congress has purchased this book for all returning veterans from the war it is so good & will be a feature film in the next year.
on May 4, 2010
The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre is written in first person, and revolves around a priest named Duncan MacAskill. I was surprised that there was so little discussed about religion considering that it was in the viewpoint of a priest. I neither liked nor disliked the protagonist, which is exactly what I felt about this book. There were many different scenes that started off with people talking, and I would have to guess who they were. A lot of the scenes, I found, were pointless. There were flashbacks to a time when MacAskill had visited the Honduras, to his attempt at a teenage relationship, and of his abusive father. These flashbacks and the problems the protagonist faced made him more human.
Overall, there isn't as much excitement as I was led to believe. Everything is very subtle, everything happens slowly. I was just reading without being amused or fascinated, and for that, I kept getting lost in the words and forgetting what I had just read and then having to reread those sections. Perhaps if I were a Catholic, I would've enjoyed this book more. I don't know.
The priest, Duncan MacAskill, is seen running errands for the Bishop to prevent bad news related to priests from becoming public information. MacAskill meets with those that have been sexually abused by a priest to help cover up the information, reassuring them that something will be done to the abuser, the priest. `Victim' is a word that the Bishop refuses to use because victims are only creations of an over-active imagination. It is the Bishop who says that he wants priests to keep their "noses out of public matters." So that the public will "keep their noses out of ours." (209)
MacAskill is trusted by the Bishop, and whatever work he is assigned related to situations such as the above one, he is to keep it a secret. Later on, he is assigned his own perish of Creignish. Yet wherever he is appointed, in essence, the job of a priest entails the priest to be alone most of the time. And being the man the Bishop relies on, the bearer of bad news, he is lonelier than most priests. Once MacAskill thinks, "A storm gives purpose to my idleness... Or justifies the lack of purpose." (94) He mentions that when he was choosing to become a priest, he was explicitly told to choose "between the desires of the world and the life of sacrifice and service." (133) It is seen that the loneliness eventually gets to MacAskill and he develops an addiction to alcohol.
MacAskill does wonder what leads a priest to do such things, but he believes that "Deviance is a loss of faith." (96) There is this one former priest named Brendan Bell that MacAskill believes might be the cause of some occurrences. A boy residing in the perish next to MacAskill's, named Danny MacKay, is behaving badly, and in the past had been in contact with the former priest, Brendan Bell. MacAskill wonders if Bell has been the cause of Danny's depression.
The following are some lines I enjoyed:
"Age reopens forgotten places in the memory..." (124)
"The sorrow comes in waves, the way the restless shoreline sighs and rustles long after the passage of a distant vessel." (137)
"A creeping uneasiness intruded like a cloud." (171)
""A conscience is an awful curse... Guilt can turn into a disease if you're not careful. That's the trouble with diaries, at least if you're honest in them."" (203)
"I should have seen what was coming next. But the future has no substance until it turns the corner into history." (228)
"They say the eyes reveal the state of the soul, and his eyes were clear as the blue sky that day." (231)
on March 19, 2010
A stunningly good novel about a Nova Scotian priest facing up to the repercussions of a career spent in obedience to his Bishop's orders -- doing the dirty work of "cleaning up" after abusive priests. A deep meditation on faith, truth, justice and personal responsibility. The Cape Breton setting is brought to life perfectly. The characters are heart-breaking, human, fragile and believable. MacIntyre is a brilliant writer, and I don't often use that word. He asks the big questions fearlessly, but with enormous compassion.