A History of Loneliness (Doubleday, £14.99) by John Boyne, bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is the first choice for The Irish Times Book Club. It has taken the Dublin-born author 15 years and 12 novels to write his first work set in Ireland. It tells the story of abuse in the Catholic Church seen through the eyes of a good priest.
Over the next few weeks, we will publish a series of articles, designed to stimulate discussion, and invite readers to comment. These will include the republication on Friday of Christina Hunt Mahony’s original review from last month, enhanced with a series of talking points added by the reviewer, a visiting lecturer in English at Trinity College Dublin.
Next week, we will publish an article by John Boyne himself, in which he opens up about his own experience of abuse at the hands of priests. We will also publish a reflection by a priest on the theme of loneliness in the priesthood. On a lighter note, the weekly book quiz will be devoted for one week to the works of John Boyne and for another to the theme of priests in literature.
The book club will climax with a podcast, in which the author will discuss his book with three readers, followed by an online discussion forum, in which every book club member will have the opportunity to pose their own question.
A History of Loneliness is the story of Odran Yates, who enters Clonliffe Seminary in 1972 after his mother informs him that he has a vocation. 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.
John Banville said of the book: “John Boyne has plunged into the dark and troubled history of the Catholic Church in our time and come up with a novel to treasure. Unflinching, moving and true”.
Joseph O’Connor called it “an urgently compelling story of power, corruption, lies and self-deceits, the damage that happens when we turn our eyes from wrong. Anyone who wants to know what happened in the Irish Catholic Church needs to read this brave, righteously angry and stunning book. Some of us have long wondered what it would be like if a master storyteller turned his powers to this theme. Now we know.”
Joyce Carol Oates wrote: "Beautifully and powerfully written, with an undercurrent of passion, A History of Loneliness is aptly titled. A portrait of one of those individuals we imagine we know – but have not a clue of his depths."
John Irving summed it up thus: "The complex architecture of this haunting novel is seamlessly constructed. The path to the priesthood that Odran Yates follows is both understandable and sympathetic. And Fr Yates is a good man; he is innocent of the false accusations made against him (he's not a paedophile). But as this author accomplished, so masterfully, in The Absolutist, John Boyne has created a character who holds himself accountable – in the case of Fr Yates, for the sins of others. No writer today handles guilt with as much depth and sadness as John Boyne. As Fr Yates takes himself to task for all he didn't do, no less than the sexual duplicity and cover-ups of the Catholic Church are indicted. This is John Boyne's most important novel, and of vital importance to Irish history; it is also a gripping story, one no reader can put down until its devastating ending."
But we would like to hear what you think, so we hope that you will join us in the Irish Times Book Club, read the book and the articles as we publish them, offer your comments, listen to the podcast and pose your own questions in the webchat that will bring the first chapter of the book club to a close.
A History of Loneliness by John Boyne (Doubleday, £14.99)