Friday, January 7, 2011

The Bishop's Man

The first book that I read in 2011 was the 2009 Giller Prize winner, The Bishop's Man, by investigative journalist Linden MacIntyre.

Rather shamefully, I have to admit that I have not read much (any) Canadian literature since taking an undergrad course of the same name at Western in the late 1980's.

I remember that I had to read the two big Canadian Margaret's - Atwood and Laurence - preferring Laurence. The only book that I enjoyed (remembered) from the syllabus was The Diviners.

So I figured that it was time to do some reading in my own backyard, and decided to start the new year with novels by Canadian authors. I was somewhat apprehensive about reading The Bishop's Man because of the sensitive subject matter. But I found that MacIntyre masterfully alluded to the darker issues, leaving most details to the reader's imagination and control. I enjoyed reading this novel even though it was way outside of my usual reading comfort zone - the timeframe changes at warp speed and loose ends are not really tied up. Some books require more energy be expended by the reader and that usually results in a better understanding of the author's intent. This book definitely made me think about the theme of contrition from the perspectives of several characters and I found it to be a worthwhile read.

MacIntyre said to the CBC:
"I thought it was time for someone to take a deep look at the impact of sexual abuse on a lot of people, not the least of which are the priests who have to continue to represent this church, in spite of the bad behaviour and deviance of other priests," he said in describing the inspiration for his book. The Bishop's Man is about "a priest who goes into the business idealistically, who realizes that priests also have feet of clay, and it leads him to a personal crisis," MacIntyre said. Father Duncan, the first-person narrator, has been his bishop's dutiful enforcer, employed to check the excesses of priests and to suppress the evidence, but he is forced to examine his own past under the strain of suspicion, obsession and guilt. The book is set in Antigonish, a place that MacIntyre calls one of most religious communities in Canada."

The Bishop's Man was published around the time of the scandal in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. In 2009, Bishop Raymond Lahey was arrested for having pornographic images of children on his laptop. What was even more disturbing was that Lahey had been the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of St. John's (a position also known as the Bishop's man) and had himself just months before announced the $15 million dollar settlement between the Diocese of Antigonish and the sexually abused victims (dating back to the fifties) of the diocese priests named in a class action lawsuit.

The prize jury said that MacIntyre's book was "a brave novel, conceived and written with impressive delicacy and understanding." I agree.


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