Faith by Jennifer Haigh
|Faith by Jennifer Haigh|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Louise Laurie|
|Summary: This story is centred around (alleged) child abuse. As if this is not shocking enough in itself, a popular and hard-working local priest is accused and his siblings and parents are put through the mill.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: September 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
As a New York Times Bestseller I was expecting great things from this book; coupled with the fact that I really enjoy American fiction, I was itching to get reading. The story is told from the perspective of Sheila, sister to Mike and half-sister to Arthur (he's normally called Art). Art is the priest and who is at the centre of the storm. We go back in time and discover a rather pious woman who has had a hard start to married life. She's now left to bring up her young son, Art, on her own. But things pick up pretty quickly from here and as an attractive woman it's not long before she meets someone else. Two more children are born and they all settle down into a normal, American family unit.
But there are undercurrents, right from the word go. Step-father and step-son don't really get along. Art is at that difficult age, on the cusp of puberty which certainly doesn't help matters. Ted, the step-father is a drinker and drink often results in foul moods. He tends to take his anger out on Art. I really felt sorry for Art. As a sensitive, gentle boy he hasn't had a great family life - so far.
It's the adult Sheila who tells the whole sorry story in the book. With plenty of that precious commodity - hindsight. She spends a lot of time telling us all about their childhood days. She clearly looked up to Art but Mike was a different kettle of fish. Noisy, sporty, a bit macho, he didn't have much in common with his quiet and studious step-brother.
And then Art surprises everyone with his big announcement. He wants to be a priest. His mother is bursting with pride and Ted seems relieved: at least the boy with be out of the house, out of his hair. As Sheila tells the story in fits and starts (with lots of soul-searching in between) we see a dreadful public scandal taking shape. Is he guilty? Or innocent? As Art and Sheila share many conversations, post-scandal, there's often weariness in Art's voice. He seems defeated. And as a grown man now, even as a priest, he has managed to collect some baggage along the way. He has no choice however in having to air his dirty laundry in public. The local community is divided. We get to know some of their reasons why.
There's a terrific line of Sheila's which sums up the situation very well. Art's story is, to me, the story of my own family, with all its darts and dodges and mysterious omissions ... Yes, you could easily say that this applies to nine out of ten families and therefore so what - but most families don't have a well-liked and well-respected priest.
This is about a family in turmoil, in melt-down and, as the title suggests, it's also about faith (however you wish to interpret that word) when times are turned upside down, when things happen to people you think you know. Art's mother is now getting on in years. She's a broken woman, will she ever be able to overcome this family shame? What do Ted and Mike think about it all. Mike, in particular, does a lot of thinking. So much that his head hurts at times. A veritable roller-coaster of emotions are between the pages of this book.
Haigh tells a terrific story. She has a subtle and rather classy touch which was effective against the storyline she chose to write about. There are some beautiful lines throughout and it all made for a smooth and engrossing read for me. I loved it. Thoroughly recommended.
If this book appeals then you might like to try A Bit of a Scandal by Mary Rose Callaghan.
You can read more book reviews or buy Faith by Jennifer Haigh at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Faith by Jennifer Haigh at Amazon.com.
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