There is not much point trying to put a gloss on things. I simply didn’t click with this book and the longer it went on the payoff became less likely to be rewarding, which is sadly exactly what turned out to be the case.
James Robertson puts a great deal of effort into creating a context for the story of Gideon Mack, with some web sites still going that give the impression that this is a factual story aka Lost. But all he succeeds in doing is by starting off pretending that this book is based on a testament that has been uncovered by a journalist who has in turn sent it to the publisher who is narrating the introduction.
The basic story is that a preacher went missing and after he was found dead one of the final things he had done was complete a history of his life. It is that document that forms the story. The problem, and this is a major one, is that the contents of the testament that are about to follow are shared in this introduction.
Telling the reader that they are about to read the thoughts of a man who said he met the devil and then shocked his congregation by telling them before running off to go and die on a bleak mountain rather gives the story away.
It would be alright if the testament gripped you but a story of a weak man’s life through a dour upbringing in the home of a Scotch minister and then into a relationship he never really wanted is tedious. Then add to that the main story about meeting the devil coming rather too late to revive your interest and all you are waiting for is to see how things end.
Of course you know he dies and so it is left to a postscript with the journalist heading back to the village where it all happened. The conclusion he comes to is that what the minister said happened probably all did, including the devil bit. But by then you are cheering not because the plot has been concluded but the book has finished.
This is a trawl and the central story never really grabbed me. The idea of someone meeting the devil means not a great deal to me. Is it shocking? Not really and in a country that has legends galore it seems odd that this modern attempt to add another literary one falls so short.
Ultimately the testament of Gideon Mack is a story of man who compromised his whole life and starved of love didn’t really know where to find it or how to demand it of others. The result is a fatally flawed character that ironically finds the love he is looking for in the shape of the devil. If you had invested more interest there are probably profound things there that can be unravelled and digested. Unfortunately for me this is as far as the thought process goes.
Hurrah. Finally the book ends and can be put on the pile. I don’t know why this didn’t click for me but it just didn’t work. The story had all been told in the start and all you were waiting for at the end was to see the reaction from those that had been named as some of the principle characters in Gideon Mack’s life.
But even there you felt frustrated because none of the characters contacted by the journalist working on behalf of the publisher had seen the transcript so were only adding a different angle to a story you had already read.
Ultimately there are questions being asked here about what happens to someone who spends their entire life compromising themselves. There are numerous references to a childhood of being unloved with that being suggested by some as a trigger for a breakdown.
When the breakdown comes it comes with style with Gideon deciding to tell his congregation about the meeting he had with the devil. That kills off his career as a minister and also forces the last few days to come that bit quicker.
But was he really mad? Can a society that is happy to contemplate the existence of God also accept the possibility of the devil? These are the sorts of questions you are left with.
Goodness knows what Richard & Judy made of it but for me this was not an enjoyable read but something of a slog.
A review will come soon..
Had a go at it and got a bit further on with the moment when Gideon meets the devil about to be described. Before he slips into the Black Jaws he gets entangled romantically with Elsie, his old friend telling her that he loves her, and then has to disappoint fellow minister Lorna who reveals she has fallen in love with him.
But it is the moment he falls into the Black Jaws that he starts to get more interesting. The problem is that as a result of the mysterious start you know what is going to happen and that really is the main criticism.
The only real mystery is why Mack was seen after he had died but presumably his testament had been completed before that. Equally there is going to be some reaction presumably from Elsie and John, Gideon’s old friends, but getting through another hundred pages to get there is slow going.
There is an obsession with this stone that Gideon has discovered in the woods and no matter who he tells about it he is always met with incredulity and when he attempts to photograph it the images are blank.
He then also introduces a previous minister’s tales of darkness and mystery surrounding a local waterfall known as the black jaws.
All of this is happening before and after his wife’s death in a car accident. That leaves Gideon not only alone but open to the possibility of a liaison with Elsie, his wife’s best friend, and then he becomes a target of love by another minister and a god fearing woman in the local community.
Because he is alone in the house most of the dialogue he has is now with himself and his own thoughts and that adds to the sense that he is slowly going mad. One of the continuing features of the story that is starting to nag at me is the fact that no one else gets the chance to see this stone that has cropped up in the hills and Gideon starts to keep it more as a secret which has the irritating consequence of keeping the stone from every having that second independent validation.
More to come…
Not sure about this. I get the need to tell the back story to put the events that are going to be the centre of the book into some context but I have to admit I am not that bothered about Gideon Mack.
As a result the life story is starting to drag a bit and you want uit to move with quicker speed to something more dynamic. It is hard to be bound over by an awkward man like Gideon. Someone who has compromised his whole life and done what he thought other people would like is a hard trait to admire.
He ends up going out with the girl he didn’t want after his friend nabs the one he was actually after. He ends up doing what his father wanted and becoming a church minister despite not believing in God and he continues to lie to himself and others.
Maybe that is going to be the point of this that the meeting with the devil is the moment when the compromising stops and he feels that he can start to reject everything.
We will see. More tomorrow…
Starting this book I had flashbacks of something I read last summer, Imposture by Benjamin Markovits, that started with a prologue that described how the publisher came to have the text that follows in their hands.
It is a literary device that is deployed with greater skill here because the idea is to grip the reader from the start with a journalist phoning up a publisher with a manuscript that has come from a missing priest who has just turned up dead in the Scottish mountains.
The key to the priests disappearance is the events leading up to his wanderings in the wilderness with an apparent meeting with the devil making him appear mad to most of those around him.
There are mysteries of why even after he is meant to have been dead for months he was seen by three witnesses alive on the mountain his body eventually turned up on.
Having got through the preamble, which does have you convinced in its authenticity the text from the mad minister himself starts.
In some respects it is quickly into the supernatural with the minister describing how he stumbles across a stone while out running that has literally appeared out of nowhere. This starts some sort of self examination that gives Gideon Mack pause to question not just his standing in the community but his standing with God.
Oddly addictive it is growing on me and as the quality of the writing kicks in the shame of reading a Richard & Judy book club choice is starting to wear off.