Winner of the 2009 Giller Prize
Winner of the 2010 Dartmouth Book Award
Winner of the 2010 Atlantic Independent Booksellers’ Choice Award
Winner of the 2010 Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Fiction Book of the Year
Finalist for the 2010 Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award
A Globe and Mail Best Book ~ 2009
Linden MacIntyre: one of Canada’s most respected journalists. Winner of nine Gemini awards for his broadcast journalism work. He has made quite the journey from his small town roots in Capre Breton; starting out as a reporter for The Chronicle Herald in Halifax and now acting as a co-host on CBC’s The Fifth Estate Mr. MacIntyre is definitely no stranger to the Canadian public. When the 2009 Giller Prize short-list, and later the winner, was announced I was very skeptical. I had this thought in my head wondering if this book was chosen because of his stature in the Canadian media or because of the subject matter. Eventually I picked up the book and read the inside flap for a bit of an idea on the book; I was starting to come around to the possibility of this being a good book. I picked up the paperback the day it was released (I didn’t like the size of the hardcover so I waited for the paperback). I will admit when I am wrong. Five pages into this book and I was hooked. The Bishop’s Man and Linden MacIntyre are, without a doubt, going to join the likes of Alistair MacLeod, Hugh MacLennan, Sheldon Currie, and D.R. MacDonald as the great Cape Breton storytellers.
The Bishop’s Man focuses on Father Duncan MacAskill; a priest often referred to by his brethren as The Exorcist or The Purificator because of his role in “dealing with” wayward priests to avoid scandal, all at the bishop’s request. In Fr. Duncan, MacIntyre has created the perfect Canadian anti-hero. Set in the mid-90s, the story takes place around the time of the eruption of abuse scandals in Newfoundland and New England; MacAskill travels around Atlantic Canada to confront the wayward priests and their victims with the ultimate goal of relocating the offenders to basically bury and cover-up potential scandal. When one of the more serious offenders decides to leave the priesthood and marry the bishop decides to appoint Fr. Duncan to a small parish in Creignish, NS to basically shield, or hide, him from the potential trouble that is sure to arise in the near future. The central character represents the human weakness that rests in everyone including those whom we believe should be without those weaknesses. Here we have a man who is partly responsible for essentially covering up the errant acts of his fellow priests all in the name of a higher power while still dealing with the pressures that face all priests. Through his steadily increasing drinking problem, his natural human desires, and his constant uncertainty about his place we see just another ordinary man.
This novel takes on a lot of themes. I remember seeing an interview with Linden MacIntyre (which is embedded below) where he says that The Bishop’s Man is ultimately a story about the corruption of power. I would go a step further and say the central them of this story is the perversion of power. The bishop represents this perversion. I truly believe that the bishop is not trying to cover up these occurrences for his own sake or for his own protection; I think these cover ups were put into action because the bishop really felt that these accusations will deeply damage the church and people’s faith in it. Calling on Fr. Duncan to stash these priests away was not an act of malice, but an act of desperation. Something else that really strikes me about Bishop Alex is the way he refuses to use the word “victim” and how upset he gets when Fr. Duncan uses that word when talking about the abused altar boys. Again, I really do think that the bishop really believes that all of these accusations are simply misunderstandings. The fact that Fr. Duncan cannot reconcile what the bishop sees as the truth and what he knows is the truth is the main contributor to his downward spiral.
On a more topical level this novel is about faith. What it takes to be a faithful person, what being faithful really means, and how questioning that faith is in the end an important part of being that faithful person. This surfaces in the story through many of the characters. I never believed any of the characters questioned the existence of God, but I do think that many, if not most, of the characters question their faith in the church, including Fr. Duncan.
The Bishop’s Man is a marvel of a book. I really do feel privileged to have had the pleasure of reading it. I look forward to reading his other two books and I have a good feeling that Linden MacIntyre will not only be known beyond his years as a great journalist but also as a great literary figure. I think his decades of experience as a reporter has conditioned him to be a great storyteller. One thing that especially impressed me about this book was that I believed it really was a priest speaking to me when I read the narration. Being a bad Catholic myself I have spoken to a number of priests; they tend to be very reflective, jumping from one point to the next with no real linear coherency to whatever they are talking about, MacIntyre nails this. I believe that 100 years from now, when university students are studying 21st century Canadian literature, this will be one of the first books that are studied. I also have no doubt that in the very near future when students/scholars are looking at the Catholic church abuse scandals, this will be a book they definitely pick up. Without a doubt one of the best books of the decade.