The Deposition of Father McGreevy

I'm not sure how I can write this review in a way that conveys the extent to which this novel has had an impact on me. But I shall try.

Published in 1999 by Arcadia Books The Deposition of Father McGreevy, by the then 72-year old Irish born Brian O'Doherty who was also an arts professor and author of several previous books, was shortlisted for the 2000 Booker prize. His inclusion on the list surprisingly resulted in critics asking 'Brian who?' which goes to show how we now take for granted the fact that recent years Booker nominees include at least a couple of unknowns.

The Deposition of Father McGreevy is about magazine editor William Maginn - an Irishman living in post-war London - who is told in his local pub of a small Kerry mountain village that had suffered more misfortune than you could shake a stick at. Maginn is intrigued enough to want to find out more about the story and so goes over to Ireland to discover more. Yet loose lips there are not and yet Maginn persists, picking up the odd line here and there, until he eventually finds his story and literally steals it.

The main part of this book then begins with the Priest of the title narrating the story in the form of his Deposition. The structure with its frame is flawless. Looking up the synopsis does not do this book any justice whatsoever with many just reporting that the village has been hit by a mysterious illness which kills five women and yet not the men, from which it can be read in a multitude of feminist perspectives. Yet it is so much more than one simple motif against many others. Madness. Blind faith. The discrimination of the mountain village from the town below who constantly gossip about the remote villagers plays a huge part. The book is also rich in pre-Christian Irish mythology and the Irish language itself and the language, as you would expect, is absolutely pitch perfect. Yet it wasn't just the language but also the silences and angers of the mountain men that made me feel as though I was listening to my own Da. This is literature at its best, for me personally, as it connects me with parts of myself and those I love and I now find myself going search of my dead father's voice in such books, which also serve as inspiration for the day when I will set to paper my own Dad's story.

Except for this - would you also be intrigued if I said that at the heart of the book is sheep-shagging? Yes, there is. It's such a brave book, this.

This book is a gem and I cannot recommend it enough. You see, when I find a book that I love I tend to go a bit mad about it, mad as in evangelical - I have to pass it on. And to think this is something which would never have found its way into print if McGreevy had given up as, like the Guardian article in the previous link states, too many of the big publishers - despite much championing by fellow writers - rejected it as merely another tale of Irish misery. There is so much here about the depth of human emotion, forgiveness, redemption of sorts and revenge too. And yet when Maginn has the story he went looking for the greatest thing he didn't do in the end was to publish it in his magazine. He was moved enough by their plights so much that he went not just in search of a story but to grasp it as best he could, so much so that, by the end, the discovery of the story and finding out about the mountain villagers plights was an end in itself. And I'm glad that that wasn't the case with the actual novel.

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