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OFFICE OF INNOCENCE by Thomas Keneally Kirkus Star


by Thomas Keneally

Pub Date: March 18th, 2003
ISBN: 0-385-50763-1
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday

Both the lure and the ordeal of the priestly life, as explored in gratifying detail and depth by the eminent Australian novelist and historian (Abraham Lincoln, p. 1591, etc.).

The conflicted protagonist is Father Frank Darragh, a recently ordained young Catholic priest serving in a suburb of Sydney during the early 1940s, when war in the Pacific Theater includes Japan’s takeover of the Malay Peninsula and increasingly threatening nearby presence. Father Frank, an imperfectly obedient “young Turk” to his worldly superior Monsignor Carolan, soon becomes involved with—and troubled by—a rich variety of errant parishioners: a guilty young bloke traumatized by his single sexual experience with a transvestite; a ménage including terminal TB patient Mrs. Flood, her passive husband, and fiery younger lover; an American soldier who seems prepared to buy absolution for himself and his several loved ones; and—crucially—beautiful Kate Heggarty, whose husband is a German POW and whose frank embrace of adultery triggers several tense conversations with Father Frank. The narrative in fact abounds with such conversations, as the hopeful novice intrudes himself into the case of an AWOL black soldier held in a military prison, and incurs suspicion when Kate Heggarty is found murdered and the priest’s “relationship” with her is revealed. The story is very neatly plotted, and Keneally handles with great skill Darragh’s climactic meeting with the guiltiest of his flock, just as Japanese submarines invade Sydney Harbor. Nevertheless, Office of Innocence succeeds best as a searching analysis of the religious life; it’s a richer, more mature counterpart to Keneally’s somewhat similar 1969 fiction, Three Cheers for the Paraclete.

This world-renowned, award-winning author has produced more than two dozen novels, including a major one, Bettany’s Book, that preceded this one—and has not yet appeared in the US. Why not?