Top critical review
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Flawed work compromised by credibility
on 3 October 2006
I found this to be a book of three parts. In the first, O'Hagan introduces us to the main character and narrator, Fr David Anderton, and provides an introduction to his background, his childhood, and his coming to Scotland - including a very real account of the religious bigotry experienced by Fr David at first hand. So far so good, with the narrative building well and the characters taking shape. The middle third, however, was spoiled for me simply because I found that the events depicted - a scholarly and cultured English priest aged 57 running around in the middle of the night in stolen cars, popping Es and drinking cider with a group of juvenile delinquents - were just not credible. The young people themselves also came across as one-dimensional caricatures introduced to prop up a lame narrative, almost like escapees from something by Irvine Welsh. By all means, O'Hagan could have produced a fine novel centred on a priest who falls for a young man and suffers the consequences - but I felt that this could have been treated by a more slow-burn approach involving something more believable, rather than the way the story actually plays out. And then the final third, dealing with topics of death, rebirth, and self-recognition, is exquisite and beautifully narrated.
I was disappointed by this book - a writer as gifted as O'Hagan should have done better and I think he spoiled it (and his MAN Booker chances) by creating a middle section which simply stretches credibility. And one other thing - I didn't think that the feelings recounted by the narrator reflected what a real gay man would have said - I'd be fascinated to hear what someone like Colm Toibin would make of this. Worth a read, all the same.