I must confess that when I learned that The Bishop's Man won the Giller, I was disappointed. Further, I didn't want to read about the Catholic Church and the way it literally screwed up in Newfoundland.
Nonetheless, since I like to read the Giller Winners, I felt there was really no way I could avoid this book.
Despite my initial misgivings, I am very happy to have read it.
It is amazing!
I loved the way that MacIntyre really captures not only the exterior setting of a little town in Nova Scotia, but the more interesting interior "setting" of Father MacAskill's thoughts. Here is an excerpt from p. 317:
"My sacred vocation. My vows of service. A blur of sacramental encounters, in retrospect like one-night stands. Have I ever really paid attention to the mumbled evasions on the other side of the confessional screen? Have I ever really spoken my true feelings about the ignorant, intoxicated bliss of the marriage ritual? Or the phoney, infantile expectations of the sacraments? Did I ever really care about the right to birth? And what about the rights thereafter? After we impose life on the unborn, then what? If we have a right to the beginning of a life, what about the middle and the end? And do we have a right to risk or, finally reject the life we never asked for? To just like down and wait...for...what?" For me, throughout the novel, MacAskill's internal dialogue seemed to realistically voice the repressed thoughts of those who have honestly believed themselves to be part of something important, only to, later in life, begin to doubt its legitimacy.
The other important characters are complex, believable and in spite of everything, sympathetic. MacIntyre is actually able to evoke in his readers the same tolerant understanding that life is complicated, and people, their motivations and their reactions are the result of the shaping by million little events, not all of them benign.
I was pleasantly surprised by this novel and someday, hope to read it again.