Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Bishop's Man

I bought The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre about two years back with every intention of reading it quickly.  It had a good combination of critical acclaim and my sister's stamp of approval, but I haven't managed to read it until now.  Instead, it was one of those novels that you think about in the back of your mind, and eventually get around to. Happily, this book lived up to the hype.  It is written by journalist Linden MacIntyre, best known for the CBC television show the fifth estate. I had seen a special that MacIntyre hosted which drew upon the subject matter discussed in the book, and I found myself both repulsed and intrigued.  

Though this book is fairly well-known, I will give a brief sketch of the plot. The story is set in Cape Breton in the early 1990s and the main character is Father Duncan MacAskill, a priest charged with the task of helping his bishop cover up allegations of child molestation. His detached, cool-headed approach to this job belies the toll that it takes on him emotionally, and results in a gradual unravelling throughout the narrative.  Due to this role as the bishop's man, MacAskill faces a great deal of isolation, and this is one of the most profound elements of the novel.  MacAskill experiences a separation between himself and his flock which is attributed to the respect that people have for his role.  Additionally, he cannot have candid conversations with fellow priests due to their distrust of his closeness with the bishop.  

The novel centres around the struggles that MacAskill faces, and I found his inner turmoil to be the most fascinating aspect of the story.  I respond to him as a character because he is a flawed individual, with his own chequered past and temptations, rather than a sterling crusader.  His growing isolation and distaste for the tasks that the bishop gives him, present an interesting portrait. Though blog entries don't really lend themselves to a more detailed breakdown of the plot (I don't want to give it away), I will say that I am leaving a lot of meaty plotlines out of this post and that this novel is more rich than these few paragraphs can convey.  

I would heartily recommend that readers take this brief sketch as an appetizer to a larger tale.  It's subject matter may not be the ideal summer read for some, but the inner angst of the main character really draws you into the story and has its own rewards.     

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