24 July 2012

Library Limelights 10

Linden MacIntyre. The Bishop's Man. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2009.
Thank you, Linden MacIntyre, for writing this book. I'm sorry I waited so long to read it. You've written about a painful subject with deep sensibility and dimension. Father Duncan MacAskill appears to be singularly unresponsive at times to events around him; he wrestles inwardly with denial while spouting platitudes to parishioners. But his silences prompt others to speak. The Cape Breton location, among people proud of oral family history tradition, often evokes the adverse inability to express conflicting feelings. Descriptions of the Ontario Escarpment and thinly disguised Homewood Health Centre were familiar ground for this reader; rewarding to view through the eyes of an empathetic author.

A quote:
Maybe I was more unnerved by the expression on his father's face when I didn't know the name of my grandmother. It had been a moment on unintended revelation on my part. Not to know your grandma? Around here, most my age will rattle off four or five generations at the slightest hint of interest. The sloinneadh it's called. Part of the dying heritage and, to my mind, no huge loss. (64)

After another silence I asked: “So what did you tell your shrink about our father?”
“I told him how guilty I felt. For how I despised him.”
Before she left, she held my hand for what seemed like an unusually long time. “I realized in the end what our father's problem really was ... and I'm not talking about the war. He had a bigger problem than that.”
“Wondering who he was. Something as simple as not knowing who his grandparents really were. Not knowing who his father and his mother really were. Just having the name, without the substance or the history. Abandoned in time. Can't you see that?” (344)

On 12-step programs:
“Make yourself at home,” he said. “You're among friends.”
They spoke about addiction as a common condition we all shared. ... Repeating with frequency that we are alcoholics, or addicts. I was reminded of how much I loathe the word “we” when used by strangers. It is coercion. But I sensed they got a certain feeling of comfort from the inclusiveness of “we.” And in the constant assertions: I'm an alcoholic. I tried it once and there was a feeling of easy and unexpected progress. Like after you've said “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I confess to the almighty God and to you, Father.” The false righteousness that comes after you've said “I'm sorry” even when you aren't. (323)

Dora Levy Mossanen. The Last Romanov. Napierville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2012.
I bought this book because of a great interest in the last decades of Imperial Russia. It's more than a historical novel, which is what I expected; it's half (excellent) research and half fantasy. Personally, the fantasy part put me off. A certain obsession with ambergris was just too much to swallow. Mossanen injects a fictional nurse-cum-companion into the brief life of the haemophylic young Tsarevich. Darya's strange “opal eye” visions and retrospective reincarnation are not my cup of tea. But the story is rich in period atmosphere as the Romanovs experience their final decade, unsuspecting it will end in the House of Special Purpose in Ekaterinburg.

The Author's Note says, “Against the backdrop of one of the most tumultuous political eras in Russian history, years of unrest, a chain of revolutions, the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and the Bolshevik uprising, I set out to give the reader an intimate understanding of a decadent court steeped in myth, superstition and denial.” She achieves that goal to a point—but misses a sense of warmth, of real intimacy with the royal family—overcompensating in the mystic, blurry thoughts of her main fictional character. The strange denouement required more literary suspension of disbelief than I was prepared to allow. Was the author even aware of her more personal agenda?

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