There might have been more art in a subtler take on this Irish horror, but Boyne has conveyed well the message most needed,...


A priest in Ireland provides a lens on his brethren’s sexual abuse of young boys.

Best known for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2006), a Holocaust novel for children, Boyne here creates a character who remains stubbornly oblivious as he gets hints of homosexuality and sexual abuse from his youth through his seminary years and as a teacher and parish priest. In a story that jumps back and forth among different periods of his life, Father Odran Yates, the narrator, endures a family tragedy and tries to ignore his sister’s early-onset dementia, two of the rare elements in the book untinged by sex. Tom Cardle, his roommate in the seminary and then longtime friend, exposes Odran, at a distance, to sexual desire and then puzzles him as the ordained Tom is too rapidly transferred from one parish to another. Odran becomes a tea server for Pope Paul VI and the short-lived John Paul I during a pointed but implausible interlude in Rome, where he has his libido stirred when he falls hard for a barista. Other Boyne novels—he has written 13 for adults and children—present his take on historical incidents, as this novel does briefly with the 33-day papacy and broadly by putting two characters at the center of Ireland’s final unraveling of the complicity of church and police in the sexual abuse scandal. Boyne’s strength is dialogue, always sharp and flowing, especially abetted by Irish idiom. His weaknesses here are neon-obvious allusions and a somewhat clunky structure. In between those extremes, he shows a fine sympathy in some of the book’s best scenes for the change that good shepherds saw in their flocks, from worshipful respect to loathing.

There might have been more art in a subtler take on this Irish horror, but Boyne has conveyed well the message most needed, that silence and denial are heinous crimes as well.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-17133-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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