A History of Loneliness: A Novel - John Boyne

The events unfolding over the last five years concerning sexual abuse has seen the emergence of a bitter and enraged public calling for justice to be seen to be done and to be done with immediate effect. What has made this all the more shocking is the naming of celebrities who were to many of us cherished and household names, and whose downfall was all the more dramatic. It is impossible to believe that the signs of such abuse were not present or noticed at an earlier time, the fact is it was always there and out of fear or misguided loyalties was simply ignored. In this mishmash of deceit and lies the church (and in particular the catholic church) presented itself as the face of salvation and hope when in reality it's clergy were some of the greatest perpetrators

 

Odran Yates is a priest and had always wanted to be a priest since he received "the calling" at an early age. He accepts the ceremony, the conformity, the celibacy and dedicates his life to a greater being knowing whatever the pain, whatever the trial it is god's will. We travel with him back and forth from days of his youth, his intern at college, his administering to the holy pontiff during his time in Rome. We learn of the tragedy in his life; the death of his younger brother Cathal at the hands of his father William, and the demise of his beloved sister Hannah cruelly stricken with dementia from a relatively early age. He accepts with fortitude his vocation basking in the knowledge that he has the love of his young nephews Janus (now a successful author) and young Aidan. He has always been close with this childhood friend Tom Cardie but has pondered and wondered why it is that he is constantly on the move from parish to parish.

 

I was aware that A History of Loneliness concerned the sexual abuse of young boys when under the guardianship of those they always felt they could trust, the priests and elders of the church. John Boyne does a wonderful job of telling a difficult story and gradually introducing doubt into the mind of the reader. This must be akin to the reality of what actually occurred, the refusal to confront those in power and the inability to accept what the eyes saw but the mind did not question. In this respect and indeed in this story no one is blameless for that moment of hesitation, that moment of questioning what you refused to believe resulted in the destroyed and decimated lives of many young people. Father Yates was to make one such mistake that had devastating and far reaching consequences.

 

This is a wonderful story, told with such depth of feeling and a true understanding of the subject matter being explored. I cannot say how glad I was that I read, even though at times the outcome was heart breaking. Boyne successfully portrays the catholic church as an institution more concerned with its own reputation and place in the community rather than protecting the vulnerable and young, the very people who looked to God as love and his workers the priests his guardians. Highly Recommended.