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A Man Like Any Other: The Priest's Tale Paperback – 11 Sep 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Matador (11 Sept. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848760167
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848760165
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 2.3 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,244,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

A brilliantly constructed novel. An evocative examination of life, love, loyalty and human frailties -- Caro Fraser A truly excellent and page-turing read. Anyone who has read her first novel, The Crowded Bed, will not be disappointed with her stunning follow-up -- Sharon Stanley clever, powerful and thought-provoking this book is not for the faint hearted, but it packs a punch and grabbed my attention and never let it go until I had finished reading. Written with great conviction and style ... this is a worthy successor to The Crowded Bed First thing I have to say about Mary Cavanagh's book is that it is not for the faint hearted. It packs quite a punch and while I could not put it down once I started, I made myself do so as I felt I needed time out half way through to recover from its impact. Mary's first book A Crowded Bed which I reviewed last year here was also pretty powerful and, again, not a book to be taken lightly, but as with this one, quite a read. The full title of this new book is A Man like any Other: the Priest's Tale and is the story of the childhood and priestly life of Father Ewan McEwan, the chaplain of Waldringhythe, a Cistercian abbey on the Suffolk coats where people, grief stricken at the loss of a loved one, come for healing. Marina, Lady Proudfoot, who lost her small daughter and husband in a sailing accident many years ago, has been a regular visitor and over the years she and Ewan have conducted a passionate and loving affair which has been kept a closely guarded secret. Now Marina is near death and she has left papers behind for Ewan to read in which she tells of her life and her own secrets. Ewan is a charismatic priest, an iconic figure after being photographed in his youth as The Crucifix Man, someone who is loved by both men and women and exerts a powerful sexual aura. We learn about his life, his childhood and his adoption and his feelings on becoming famous as the subject of this controversial photograph. Most of all, we learn of his feelings and his knowledge that he is a priest who has betrayed his vows. Throw in another love secret love affair, this time homosexual, between Marina's son Timothy and an old family friend Roger, who has betrayed his wife for most of their marriage, and you have a potent brew. As I said, hard hitting and powerful stuff and I cannot write any more without giving away the final twist, the ending that left me wondering. We not only learn yet another dark revelation, this time about Timothy, but are also left wondering just how much Marina knew about her lover and if, as is hinted, she knew his full story, then the reader is totally winded. I know I was. I will repeat my opening sentence, this book is not for the faint hearted, but it packs a punch and grabbed my attention and never let it go until I had finished reading. Written with great conviction and style with a narrative not only flicking backwards and forwards between the main protagonists, but also in time so you need to concentrate, this is a worthy successor to The Crowded Bed. This is the story of Marina, whose husband and daughter drowned many years before the book begins. Marina herself has just died, and is mourned in different ways by four people, whose stories are also explored during the course of the novel. Tim, Marina's son, was very attached to her. He's gay, although he has hidden this from his mother, or so he thinks. He and his lover, Roger, plan to come out together at Marina's funeral and then live together. Roger's wife Sally knows this will happen; she was Marina's nurse in the final stages of her cancer, so for her this is a major turning point in her life. She plans to go and work as a grief counsellor at an Abbey, where she will report to Father Ewan. He is a controversial priest in the Roman Catholic Church who has been counselling Marina since the loss of her husband and daughter. Moreover, Marina and Ewan have been having a passionate affair for over twenty years, although they have kept this a secret from almost everybody else. Neither of them talked much about their lives to each other, or anyone eles. But as the crisis approached, Marina wrote some recollections of her past, to be read by Father Ewan after she had gone, and he starts to think back to his earliest memories from childhood. The novel is very cleverly written, interspersing action in the present - Tim grieving deeply for his mother, and discovering that Roger is not much use to him; Sally meeting Father Ewan for the first time, and finding him very attractive - and the past. The reader quickly learns something far more shocking than any of the characters could possibly imagine, which will impact Ewan more than anyone, if and when he finds out. I found it quite tiring reading this book at first; I felt drained by some of the emotions people were going through, and I also found I had to pause between chapters to consider the implications of whatever new revelations had been described. By the end, though, I was racing to find out what was going to happen. I did like Father Ewan, despite the sometimes sordid nature of his affair with Marina. He's a priest who is very human, struggling to work for God and help the bereaved, while living a secret life that must inevitably wear him down internally. I also liked Sally, whose loyalty is down-to-earth and realistic. Her understanding and forgiving nature are very appealing; clearly she still loves Roger, despite his promiscuous bisexuality. I didn't much like Roger myself. He seemed a very selfish person, wanting to have everything and give very little, while totally unable to relate to Tim's deep grieving. Tim himself seemed rather weak, full of guilt for something which isn't revealed until later in the book, although I did guess what it was. I have to admit I found the ending a bit frustrating. I could see it coming, and hoped I was wrong. And yet, once I'd finished, I'm not sure that any other ending would have worked. It's a tribute to the author that I found myself imagining what could have happened if circumstances were different for some hours afterwards - if Tim hadn't done this, or Roger hadn't done that, or Sally hadn't phoned when she did... clearly they all got under my skin to some degree. I have only two small criticisms of this book. The first is the amount of bad language. I know people in books do use expletives more than I'm comfortable with, and have learned to deal with it. But in this book - as in Mary Cavanagh's other novel - there was an excessive use of just one four-letter word, in many different grammatical forms, both as an expletive and as description for acts of love and lust. It seemed unoriginal to keep using the same word, and rather lost its impact after so many times. I was disappointed that such a very good writer could not find at least a few other words to replace it. My other problem was the somewhat explicit descriptions of some of the love scenes. Some novels are far worse, of course, but in the context of a really very well-written story, it seemed rather trite to start describing precisely what happened when various characters got together. Still, it was easy enough to skim these passages, and there weren't very many of them. Overall, though, the book is so clever, powerful and thought-provoking that I can't in fairness take away more than half a star. Many thanks to the author for sending the book! If this book appeals then we think that you might also enjoy The Crowded Bed by Mary Cavanagh, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Glittering Images by Susan Howatch.

Synopsis

Father Ewan McEwan is the chaplain of Waldringhythe, a Cistercian Abbey on the Suffolk coast. Despite his binding vows as a Roman Catholic priest he has, for most of his adult life, secretly enjoyed a passionate and devoted affair with Marina Proudfoot. When Marina dies, his profound grief forces Father McEwan to follow his own unique instruction; 'To know yourself is to understand yourself, and memory is the only key'. Thus, he tells his life story, from the mystery of his early childhood, his moral dilemmas as a young adult, his world fame as the subject of a controversial, iconic photograph, and his present as a sinning priest. Marina's own posthumous story is told, with great warmth, and humour, through her scandalous revelations, "The Tales From The Purple Handbag".It soon becomes apparent that Marina is certainly not the refined 'Lady of the Manor' she purports to be. Marina's son, Timothy, mourning her deeply, is faced with the emerging ghosts and demons of his own troubled past and gradually he sinks into a fragile, emotional state that needs careful handling. His lover, Roger Fuller, has always detested Marina, and is delighted to be rid of her.

He immediately leaves his marital home to move in with Timothy, but with little sensitivity, or ability, to understand Timothy's emerging collapse, reveals himself as selfish, shallow and ambivalent. Sally, Roger's wife is confused and angry. When he leaves, she escapes to the sanctuary of Waldringhythe Abbey, where she encounters the powerful allure of Father Ewan.

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