Review: A History of Loneliness

A History of LonelinessA History of Loneliness by John Boyne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a novel that has an unfortunate ring of truth to it. It is profoundly disturbing to read, particularly in the light of the Australian Church’s own shameful history. It was, at times, exceedingly uncomfortable to read as a Catholic priest, posing many a question that I have embraced and struggled with over the years.

This novel tells the story of an Irish priest who, for reasons that become clear across the course of the narrative, gets caught up in the revelations of child sexual abuse perpetrated by other members of the Irish clergy, and in particular by one of his seminary classmates. The narrative, which unfolds in time-specific episodes crafted together by the author, covers the story of the protagonist from his childhood to his late 50s, revealing his own family history and personal experiences, together with his confronting of the revelations of crimes committed by other members of the Irish clergy.

During the course of the novel, the protagonist comes to realise that

…I had known everything, right from the start, and never acted on any of it. I had blocked from my mind, time and again, refused to recognize what was staring me in the face. I had said nothing when I should have spoken out, convincing myself that I was a man of higher 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. (p 379)

Though the book is hard to read at times, and very challenging for a believer to contemplate, it is a book that I am glad I have read, and a book that I would recommend, unhesitantly, to anyone inside or outside the Church. As the author writes in his ‘Acknowledgements’:

It’s impossible to estimate the number of children who suffered in Ireland at the hands of the Catholic Church, nor is it easy to guess the number of dedicated and honest priests who have seen their lives and vocations tarnished by the actions of their colleagues.

However many it may be, one would have been one too many.

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