Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Bishop's Man

Sometimes it is unclear exactly what is going on; you suspect; there are veiled references.  Shadows, things unsaid, you don’t quite trust your interpretation of events.  Given the plotline in The Bishop's Man, this technique draws you right into the story.

Tonight at the Heliconian Lecture Series, MacIntyre couldn't stop moving the entire time he was at the podium. He was gesticulating with his hands and his legs were constantly in a slow jig. His voice still has the soft, pleasing lilt of someone who has grown up on the East Coast.

Hawthorne was to be the original title of the book, in reference to the place and to Christ's crown of thorns. The editor, Ann Collins, convinced MacIntyre The Bishop's Man would be a better hook. She also made several suggestions the author said opened up the story for him.

I had a chance to ask Linden MacIntryre if it was intentional the Bishop's Man, Duncan MacAskill, seemed to systematically break each of the seven deadly sins and most of the ten commandments.  The author seemed genuinely surprised by the question, as it was the sins of the Church itself that were the worst iniquities.  The sins of the abusers were multiplied by the amoral institution.  He talked about the difference between sexual assualt and sexual abuse.  Abuse usually involving the ongoing exploitation of someone in a position of trust, over someone with less power.  How the Church was complicit and enabled abuse with a policy that transferred offenders from one location to another, covering things up and keeping things quiet.

When we discussed this at the Book Babes August meeting, every person around the table had a passionate reaction.  To say there were differences of opinion about the culpability of the Bishop's Man would be putting it mildly.

Born Catholic, I connect with a lot that is written. As a kid there was a period I went to mass every day, intent on becoming a priest.  Like many in my generation I turned away from the Church as an institution as I grew older.

I also connect with the landscape - it is filled with water.

There are so many references to boats:  MacAskill buys a boat and tries to learn to pilot it.  Boats are in the foreground in phrases like "There was a froth of water churning at the stern, a graceful wake opening behind her like a bridal train".  The boats dot the scenery, and they're metaphors for character descriptions:  “white teeth flashing like the froth of a distant boat."

And death comes on or near  boats:  suicides and murders.

MacIntyre writes when he feels like it.  He says he is far more productive between the hours of 5-9 than 9-5.  When he is working on a story he is thinking about it all the time, not just when he is writing. He gave up carrying around a notebook to write down phrases that pleased him as they occurred , figuring if he couldn't remember them later it probably wasn't memorable in the first place.  One of the hardest parts of writing for him is the 'unwriting', like when he came to the realization that the 30 page prologue he'd laboured over just had to go because it wasn't adding to the story.

Growing up he excelled at composition in school, people often telling him he had a way with words. In university, he was told (by a priest) that he wasn't 'creative enough' to work in fiction. He ended up pursuing journalism in the early days, when it was considered 'reporting' and was something people fell into with little or no training.  He rose to the top of his profession and has become one of Canada's most trusted broadcasters.

I enjoyed hearing a bit of background about the Gillers.  MacIntyre was surprised to be longlisted, and even more so to be shortlisted.  He accepted his red rose and formal invitation to attend the awards in person, knowing he was a long shot to win (press pegged him second-to-last as a contender).  He enjoyed his drinks, feeling confident that although there was a remote mathematical possibility he would win, he needn't be prepared with a speech.  When they announced his name, his brain was completely dead, he had nothing to say, and he can't remember a word he said to this day.  He still refuses to watch any recordings of the ceremony, convinced he'll be doing justice to the phrase "drunken Irishman".

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