Linden MacIntyre’s book, The Bishop’s Man, is not one I picked up easily from the bookstore. For one thing, I was a Senior Adjudicator (and briefly, a Deputy Chief Adjudicator) in the Indian Residential Schools claims process. I’ve heard enough stories of children being sexually abused at the hands of priests to last me a lifetime, and none of them were fiction. For another, it won The Giller Prize. I tend to shy away from literary fiction, which can be pretentious and often lacks plot.
But this book was a wonderful surprise.
MacIntyre writes from the first person perspective of Duncan MacAskill, a Catholic priest and “fixer.” MacAskill is the priest who handles allegations of abuse by other priests. In most cases, this involves keeping things quiet by arranging for them to disappear. But as the scandals seep into public consciousness, he’s sent to run a parish in a small village down east, mainly to get him away from lawyers and inquiring media.
But even in a small town– or perhaps particularly in a small town– there are damaged people, often numbed by alcohol. As MacAskill is drawn into the lives of those around him, we discover their terrible secrets — and his.
This book has several subplots, and MacIntyre is in complete control of each of them. He keeps the line taut as he reels the reader in, hinting at backstory but teasing it out masterfully. The book simmers with tension, as deeply satisfying as any complex mystery novel as the pieces start falling together. And MacAskill is an engaging lead, flawed, human, and introspective, as real as any fictional character can be as he questions his own choices and the moral authority of his church.
MacIntyre’s writing is clean and uncluttered, but evocative. He finds fresh adjectives to describe the internal and external landscapes. (“Soft fog” was one that stuck in my mind. Lovely.)
I felt as if I was reading a LeCarre novel — it’s that good.
Intelligent, tone-perfect, with a complex plot and layered characters, I can find nothing to criticize about this book except that it made me wonder if I can ever write as well as Linden MacIntyre. It is absolutely brilliant. Put it on your must-read list, and then set aside a whole day, because you won’t want to put it down.
Check out Penguin Canada’s book trailer for The Beggar’s Opera here! It’s pretty cool!