|A Man Like Any Other: The Priest's Tale by Mary Cavanagh|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Fairhead|
|Summary: A powerful novel, interweaving several strands from the lives of five different people. Great characterisation, sometimes shocking revelations, cleverly written.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 248||Date: September 2008|
This is the story of Marina, whose husband and daughter drowned many years before the book begins. Marina herself has just died, and is mourned in different ways by four people, whose stories are also explored during the course of the novel.
Tim, Marina's son, was very attached to her. He's gay, although he has hidden this from his mother, or so he thinks. He and his lover, Roger, plan to come out together at Marina's funeral and then live together. Roger's wife Sally knows this will happen; she was Marina's nurse in the final stages of her cancer, so for her this is a major turning point in her life. She plans to go and work as a grief counsellor at an Abbey, where she will report to Father Ewan. He is a controversial priest in the Roman Catholic Church who has been counselling Marina since the loss of her husband and daughter.
Moreover, Marina and Ewan have been having a passionate affair for over twenty years, although they have kept this a secret from almost everybody else. Neither of them talked much about their lives to each other, or anyone eles. But as the crisis approached, Marina wrote some recollections of her past, to be read by Father Ewan after she had gone, and he starts to think back to his earliest memories from childhood.
The novel is very cleverly written, interspersing action in the present - Tim grieving deeply for his mother, and discovering that Roger is not much use to him; Sally meeting Father Ewan for the first time, and finding him very attractive - and the past. The reader quickly learns something far more shocking than any of the characters could possibly imagine, which will impact Ewan more than anyone, if and when he finds out. I found it quite tiring reading this book at first; I felt drained by some of the emotions people were going through, and I also found I had to pause between chapters to consider the implications of whatever new revelations had been described. By the end, though, I was racing to find out what was going to happen.
I did like Father Ewan, despite the sometimes sordid nature of his affair with Marina. He's a priest who is very human, struggling to work for God and help the bereaved, while living a secret life that must inevitably wear him down internally. I also liked Sally, whose loyalty is down-to-earth and realistic. Her understanding and forgiving nature are very appealing; clearly she still loves Roger, despite his promiscuous bisexuality. I didn't much like Roger myself.
He seemed a very selfish person, wanting to have everything and give very little, while totally unable to relate to Tim's deep grieving. Tim himself seemed rather weak, full of guilt for something which isn't revealed until later in the book, although I did guess what it was.
I have to admit I found the ending a bit frustrating. I could see it coming, and hoped I was wrong. And yet, once I'd finished, I'm not sure that any other ending would have worked. It's a tribute to the author that I found myself imagining what could have happened if circumstances were different for some hours afterwards - if Tim hadn't done this, or Roger hadn't done that, or Sally hadn't phoned when she did... clearly they all got under my skin to some degree.
I have only two small criticisms of this book. The first is the amount of bad language. I know people in books do use expletives more than I'm comfortable with, and have learned to deal with it. But in this book - as in Mary Cavanagh's other novel - there was an excessive use of just one four-letter word, in many different grammatical forms, both as an expletive and as description for acts of love and lust. It seemed unoriginal to keep using the same word, and rather lost its impact after so many times. I was disappointed that such a very good writer could not find at least a few other words to replace it.
My other problem was the somewhat explicit descriptions of some of the love scenes. Some novels are far worse, of course, but in the context of a really very well-written story, it seemed rather trite to start describing precisely what happened when various characters got together. Still, it was easy enough to skim these passages, and there weren't very many of them.
Overall, though, the book is so clever, powerful and thought-provoking that I can't in fairness take away more than half a star.
Many thanks to the author for sending the book!
You can read more book reviews or buy A Man Like Any Other: The Priest's Tale by Mary Cavanagh at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy A Man Like Any Other: The Priest's Tale by Mary Cavanagh at Amazon.com.
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