This is an engrossing and penetrating portrait of a profoundly conflicted and tortured man, how he deals with his struggle and how those around him peceive him. Told from the point of view of a young boy, the mystery surrounding the activites of the strange and violent Abbe becomes the axis around which Mirbeau's psychological analysis revolves. The Abbe's psyche is ruthlessly dissected, casting light on the darkness that is at the core of so much human behavior. Though this can be considered an attack on the Catholic Church I think that to define it as such is to miss the point and, worse, potentially deprive Catholic readers of this fascinating work. I prefer to see the Abbe as more of a man and less of a priest. His being a priest simply magnifies the universal issues portrayed in this book. The darkness in a priest is more noticeable than the darkness in a non-priest. That he is a powerful religious figure just makes the themes stand out more clearly (this supposed lack of subtlety is a criticism often weighed against Mirbeau but is wholly unfounded if you accept that art has a point to make and that making that point simply is not inherently inferior). Mirbeau was obviously an angry man and, growing up in provincial France, where the Church is a dominant social force, Catholicism is a natural target, as is the State in other works (Mirbeau was an anarchist) and should not be given too much credence when judging him. The book is more of a moral pinata then a scathing critique of one particular institution. And, most importantly, Jules is simply a fascinating character and the story itself sucks you in and will bounce around in your subconscious for a long time to come.