Propelled into the priesthood by a family tragedy, Odran Yates is full of hope and ambition. When he arrives at Clonliffe Seminary in the 1970s, it is a time in Ireland when priests are highly respected, and Odran believes that he is pledging his life to “the good.”
Forty years later, Odran’s devotion is caught in revelations that shatter the Irish people’s faith in the Catholic Church. He sees his friends stand trial, colleagues jailed, the lives of young parishioners destroyed, and grows nervous of venturing out in public for fear of disapproving stares and insults. At one point, he is even arrested when he takes the hand of a young boy and leads him out of a department store looking for the boy’s mother.
But when a family event opens wounds from his past, he is forced to confront the demons that have raged within the church, and to recognize his own complicity in their propagation, within both the institution and his own family.
A novel as intimate as it is universal, A History of Loneliness is about the stories we tell ourselves to make peace with our lives. It confirms Boyne as one of the most searching storytellers of his generation.
Genre: Adult fiction
Lately I’ve been trying to refrain from giving lots of books five-star ratings, because I feel like every time a really incredible book comes around that actually changed the way I see the world and made me question my humanity, I’ll be comparing it to other books that didn’t entirely live up to that standard, but that I also rated five stars anyway. A History of Loneliness falls into that first category, although I feel like if I were to model my requirements for a five-star rating after this book, there would be very, very few that even came close to being considered worthy of four stars.
I fell in love with John Boyne after reading The Boy In The Striped Pajamas when I was twelve. Granted, at twelve I was far more concerned with changing my wardrobe from pretty in pink to black and bored – seventh grade was a dark time for me – than taking note of beautiful writing and meaningful character development, so when I recently noticed a John Boyne novel lying on our family bookshelf, I grabbed it out of pure curiosity and just a bit of nostalgia. Of course, upon further inspection, I noticed that the novel dealt with two of my favourite topics of conversation at the moment: the controversy surrounding the Catholic Church, and Ireland.
Father Odran Yates arrived at Cloniff Seminary in the 1970s, when priests were still highly respected and priesthood was considered a perfectly reasonable profession for young men. Forty years later, he struggles to keep a firm hold on his faith as he sees his colleagues arrested, tried, and even jailed for crimes he never imagined the Catholic Church would be associated with. Finally, he begins to confront the demons that have shattered Ireland’s faith when family matters dredge up the past.
There are few novels that have intrigued me as much as A History of Loneliness. I found Boyne’s commentary on the scandals caused by Father Odran Yates’s colleagues, although almost vague and concealed, extremely valid and interesting. Furthermore, I loved the ideas he put forth surrounding the role of a bystander in a crime, and how one can be just as guilty as the perpetrator if one witnesses an incident and does nothing to stop it.
The story Boyne weaves is intimate, scandalous and deeply meaningful. It is an absolute must-read – both for its subject matter and simply because it is so well-written. A magnificent novel.