Friday 17 October 2014

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

Odran Yates enters Clonliffe Seminary in 1972 after his mother informs him that he has a vocation to the priesthood. He goes in full of ambition and hope, dedicated to his studies and keen to make friends.
Forty years later, Odran’s devotion has been challenged by the revelations that have shattered the Irish people’s faith in the church. He has seen friends stand trial, colleagues jailed, the lives of young parishioners destroyed and has become nervous of venturing out in public for fear of disapproving stares and insulting remarks.
But when a family tragedy opens wounds from his past, he is forced to confront the demons that have raged within a once respected institution and recognise his own complicity in their propagation.
It has taken John Boyne fifteen years and twelve novels to write about his home country of Ireland but he has done so now in his most powerful novel to date, a novel about blind dogma and moral courage, and about the dark places where the two can meet. At once courageous and intensely personal, A History of Loneliness confirms Boyne as one of the most searching chroniclers of his generation.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne was published by Doubleday in hardback on 4 September 2014, the paperback edition will be released in May 2015.

When Odran Yates' father and young brother drowned off a beach during a family holiday, his life changed completely. This was the day when his family turned from five, to three. This was the day that his Mother turned to God and the Catholic Church, becoming more and more devout and zealous as the years passed. When Odran's Mother declared that he had 'the calling', he dutifully went off the the Seminary to undertake the seven long years of training to become a Priest.

Odran then spends the rest of his life doing as he is bid, just as he accepted his Mother's wish to have a Priest for a son, he then accepts everything that each Priest, Bishop, Cardinal and yes, even the Pope tells him. Odran is a naive, yet good man. He truly believes that he is working for God, despite the fact that he has spent most of his career as a teacher in Tenenure Boys School, rarely carrying out any of the traditional duties of a Parish Priest.

Odran tells his story over a wide time span, starting in 2001 and going back to his childhood, his early days as a Priest and the subsequent years right up to the present day. His very first words are:
"I did not become ashamed of being Irish until I was well into the middle years of my life."
It is this statement that paves the way in Odran's story. The scandal that rocked the Catholic Church to it's core has altered his life and altered the way that the rest of the world view the Church. Odran looks back to his younger years, and how the Parish Priest was revered in every town and village in Ireland. If the Priest visited any home, he would be given the last slice of bread, the most comfortable seat in the house. Any child or young person who gave their parents an ounce of trouble would be referred to the Priest for a talking to. Families attended weekly Mass, even if they really were not interested, for to be seen as non church-goers would only cause trouble for them. Odran was used to this world. He was used to people giving up their seat on the bus, bringing him food, listening to him, respecting his views.

It has to be said that not all Priests were involved in the scandal, not all Priests preyed on children, causing them physical and mental harm. Not all Priests were predators, greedy, bullies or criminals, but many of them were aware of what was happening. Odran is truly shocked by what he learns. He has blindly led a life surrounded by other Priests who he trusted and thought of as friends, he didn't know. Or did he? Did he really not question why a colleague was moved from Parish to Parish, never staying in one place for more than a couple years? Did he know, or did he choose not to know?

A History of Loneliness is a book that will both shock, anger and sadden the reader. John Boyne has got into the fabric of Odran's character, revealing a good but basically weak-willed man, a man who took the easy options, a man who is now more broken by the realisation that he contributed to the scandal with his silence, than by the actual things that happened.

A History of Loneliness is very Catholic, and very Irish. Having been brought up by an Irish Catholic mother here in England, and spent my summers in County Donegal with my very devout Catholic Grandmother, I recognise the language, the actions and the all encompassing hold that the Church had on the people of Ireland. I also recognise the shock and sadness that the revelations about the systematic abuse of children over many years brought to good, believing Catholics. My own Mother struggled so hard to deal with the news, becoming more and more upset as more atrocities were revealed.

This is a book that is harsh yet so so powerful. John Boyne writes intelligently, with emotion, yet is unsparing with his words, there is a lot of anger within the words. It is haunting and incredibly powerful writing.

My thanks to the publisher, Doubleday who sent my copy for review.

John Boyne was born in Ireland in 1971. The winner of two Irish Book Awards, he is the author of seven novels, including the international bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which was made into a Miramax feature film and has sold more than five million copies worldwide. His novels are published in over forty languages.
He lives in Dublin

For more information about the author, and his other novels visit his website
Follow him on Twitter @john_boyne

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