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Review: A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

by Kristeena
Review: A History of Loneliness by John BoyneA History of Loneliness by John Boyne
Published by Doubleday Books on September 4th 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Challenge Theme: A book by an author you haven't read before

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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.

I absolutely loved this book. The author was able to take a very tough subject and write about it beautifully. The story bounces back and forth through the main character Odran’s childhood, his life at seminary, his life in Rome at the Vatican, and his role in the scandal that rocked the Catholic church at that time. The parts of the novel when the author focuses on the corruptness of the Catholic church I found to be the most interesting. I often found myself wondering where the line of fact and fiction was drawn.

Odran’s story is one with much complexity; one moment I was feeling bad for him, another I was frustrated with him, another I just wanted him to find his happiness. I found Odran to be a weak man in most of the book and while that infuriated me I also found myself feeling for him because of everything he went through in his life.

The last paragraph in this book is a powerful one where Odran finally realizes that the way he handled things throughout his life was wrong. “But once, in his anger, Aiden had asked me whether I thought I had wasted my life, and I had told him no. No, I had not. But I had been wrong. And Tom Cardle had been right. For I had known everything, right from the start, and never acted on any of it. I had blocked it from my mind time and again, refused to recognize what was staring me in the face. I had said ntohing when I should have spoken out, convincing myself that I was a man of high character. I had been complicit in all their crimes, and people had suffered because of me. I had wasted my life. I had wasted every moment of my life. And the final irony was that it had taken a convicted pedophile to show me that in my silence, I was just as guilty as the rest of them.” So that brings about the question: If you turn a blind eye are you just as guilty or do you just see the best in people and don’t think they are capable of being a monster?

Favorite Quote:
“If I cannot see some good in all of us and hope that the pain we all share will come to an end, what kind of priest am I anyway? What kind of man?”

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