The Bishop’s Man was the 2009 Giller Prize winner. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Giller, it’s Canada’s largest annual prize for fiction, netting the winner $50,000. MacIntyre, a well-known Canadian journalist who has won nine Geminis for broadcast journalism, beat out Anne Michaels, Colin McAdam, Annabel Lyon, and Kim Echlin.
I’m not sure The Bishop’s Man is a book I’d pick up on my own, but it’s this month’s book club pick. Still, the novel’s opening pages had me intrigued. Its narrator, Father Duncan MacAskill, is an intriguing character, but then he starts to spiral out of control and so does the book.
MacAskill is known as the “Exorcist.” The Bishop sends him to clean up after fallen priests – men who have sullied the name of the priesthood by engaging in sexual relationships with – well – anyone. As we all know, celibacy is one of the tenets of the priesthood.
MacAskill isn’t without his own secrets, though. When the bishop decides to send him back to his childhood home, MacAskill is forced to confront his own demons. Isolated from the world in backwoods Cape Breton MacAskill suddenly realizes how lonely he is and he begins to drink heavily.
The Bishop’s Man is a page-turner. Lots of things are hinted at, enough to make the reader wonder: about the suicide of a young man and his relationship with a charismatic priest who has since left the order and married; about MacAskill’s time in Honduras, revealed in snippets from his diary; about where his relationship with Stella, a woman in the village, might be headed; about his childhood.
MacIntyre juggles all these various threads and I guess this is where the book failed for me. I’m not a moron, but sometimes the out of sequence narration was really a pain-in-the-ass. I’m all for the elliptical, but I’m not sure it served the story in this instance (unless MacIntyre was trying to mimic the disordered state of MacAskill’s mind.)
I haven’t read the other novels on the Giller shortlist and so I’d be curious to see how they stack up against this one. I guess the one thing The Bishop’s Man has going for it is a sense of immediacy. The Catholic Church has certainly had its share of troubles. Whether or not the novel’s verisimilitude is enough to overlook its other issues is up to the reader, I suppose.