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.
As a lot of you may have noticed, I am a huge John Boyne fan! After reading The Heart's Invisible Furies earlier this year, I fell in love with his storytelling and I have read 4 of his other books since then.
A History of Loneliness is one I put off for a bit purely because I knew it would be a heavy one. One of the things I love about Boyne's books is that he addresses heavy topics in a way that makes them accessible to the reader. This book was no exception; A History of Loneliness gives us a unique and heart breaking insight into a dark and troubled side of Ireland that many prefer to forget. The Catholic Church has played a key role in the running of the country for many decades (which is still the case in some ways today) and the level of trust and devotion the people of Ireland gave to the Church was beyond measure. Therefore, for people to discover that the Church had played a part in covering up multiple cases of child abuse by priests was a shattering truth that would forever change the face of Ireland and its relationship with the Church.
Like all of Boyne's books, this is a beautifully written story that truly immerses the reader and builds such an emotional connection between the reader and the characters. You become a close companion of Odran's as he navigates life and its challenges. Odran is a very sensitive and compelling character and your heart breaks for him as the story develops and the inevitable occurs as he discovers more about the dark side of the Church.
One thing I really adored about the book was the tone of voice of the characters. It honestly felt like I was back in Ireland and I could picture all of these people having these conversations. Despite the heavy topic of the book, in pure John Boyne style, he still manages to surprise the reader with a few laughs through his purely genius way of writing and capturing the voices of his characters.
So overall, another great book from Boyne! I only gave it an 8 purely because the subject itself was a little uncomfortable at times and I did find the pace a little slow for the first part of the book. Also, if I was to compare my level of enjoyment versus The Heart's Invisible Furies and some of his other books, this one is just a little bit lower.
I have now read 5 of his books this year and my love affair with Boyne's work is nowhere near done. The Thief of Time is next up and I can't wait!
IN 3 WORDS/PHRASES:
“But then I didn’t know what I was giving up until it was already gone. No one ever does, do they?”
Odran, just such a sensitive and genuinely sweet character who is sometimes misguided and vulnerable in his ways. But I could picture him as so many people I know from back home and just loved him.