The life of a good priest in Ireland over the past 50 years provokes one of John Boyne's most powerful novels yet.
Odran Yates enters Clonliffe Seminary in 1972 after his mother informs him that he has a vocation to the priesthood. He goes in full of ambition and hope, dedicated to his studies and keen to make friends.
Forty years later, Odran's devotion has been challenged by the revelations that have shattered the Irish people's faith in the church. He has seen friends stand trial, colleagues jailed, the lives of young parishioners destroyed and has become nervous of venturing out in public for fear of disapproving stares and insulting remarks.
But when a family tragedy opens wounds from his past, he is forced to confront the demons that have raged within a once respected institution and recognise his own complicity in their propagation.
It has taken John Boyne fifteen years and twelve novels to write about his home country of Ireland but he has done so now in his most powerful novel to date, a novel about blind dogma and moral courage, and about the dark places where the two can meet. At once courageous and intensely personal, A History of Loneliness confirms Boyne as one of the most searching chroniclers of his generation.
Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) explores the tumultuous history of the priesthood in the Irish church. Father Odran Yates narrates from when his mother told him he ought to take vows through the present day. For many years, Odran has taught and cared for the library at Terenure College in Dublin, going about his days in near ignorance of church politics. He is without ambition and often exasperatingly na ve. He insists that he enjoys his life, despite one painfully botched and shameful romantic interest. When string of priests are convicted of sexually harassing young boys in their congregations, Odran pushes away the news for as long as he can, despite increasingly aggressive and pointed public response. Then he tries to return a boy that's been separated from his mother in a department store, and the Garda detain him, accusing Odran of attempting to kidnap the child. When an old roommate resurfaces, Odran must face his own denial and the pain it's caused. The book sags during conversations with formulaically villainous clergymen but is otherwise a quietly enlightening meditation on how the Irish Catholic church has let down its congregations.