Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Devilish good read

Having been deblogged by a weekend in a monastery (again) and a dreaded lurgie, I feel I have so much to catch up on that I'll start with the present and then look back. Feeling too poorly to sit at my desk, I've been reading the way I used to before computers took over my life - James Robertson's The Testament of Gideon Mack. What a good book! I'd read the same author's The Fanatic, set in the dire Scotland of the post-Reformation period, but this story is of now, very much of now, when the church is no longer a force in the lives of the majority but can consume the souls of its adherents. When the minister of the local Kirk - Gideon Mack, himself a son of the Manse - is rescued from drowning and claims it was the Devil who saved him, he is cast out by the Presbytery as vigorously as he would have been four hundred years ago. Then, of course, he would also have been burned at the stake. But his devil is seductively ordinary, cantankerous but compelling, and God is nowhere to be found.

The story is presented as Mack's own, some written as a conventional biography, some - the crux of the narrative - as if dictated and transcribed. The whole is set up and concluded by an imaginary publisher, filling in the gaps and commenting on the strangeness of it all. I found it absorbing and convincing, and beautifully written. Gideon Mack is a 21st century Scot, with a job to do and no faith to bring to it, who runs marathons for charity and has an affair with his best friend's wife, an independent spirit or a weak one depending on your point of view. You may never again look at a minister without wondering.


  1. I presume you mean to include any 'man of the cloth'?

  2. Well, if I'm going to be completely inclusive, I'd have to include women too!