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A History of Loneliness (2014)

by John Boyne

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3813154,792 (4.24)32
"The riveting narrative of an honorable Irish priest who finds the church collapsing around him at a pivotal moment in its history. Propelled into the priesthood by a family tragedy, Odran Yates is full of hope and ambition. When he arrives at Clonliffe Seminary in the 1970s, it is a time in Ireland when priests are highly respected, and Odran believes that he is pledging his life to "the good." Forty years later, Odran's devotion is caught in revelations that shatter the Irish people's faith in the Catholic Church. He sees his friends stand trial, colleagues jailed, the lives of young parishioners destroyed, and grows nervous of venturing out in public for fear of disapproving stares and insults. At one point, he is even arrested when he takes the hand of a young boy and leads him out of a department store looking for the boy's mother. But when a family event opens wounds from his past, he is forced to confront the demons that have raged within the church, and to recognize his own complicity in their propagation, within both the institution and his own family. A novel as intimate as it is universal, A History of Loneliness is about the stories we tell ourselves to make peace with our lives. It confirms Boyne as one of the most searching storytellers of his generation"-- "An honorable priest recalls his life and ultimately confronts his own complicity in the heinous acts of his best friend from the seminary"--… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
A fascinating John Boyne book where he famously draws the reader in page by page. ( )
  dugmel | Jan 11, 2022 |
A very troubling, very readable and interesting novel following an Irish priest, Odran Yates, who is largely (and deliberately) ignorant of the ongoing sex scandals of the Catholic Church in Ireland over the years. The book asks some interesting and provocative questions about guilt and responsibility, not of those who perpetrate the crimes, but those who cover up said crimes, or else prefer to stick their heads in the sand.

The book also recounts Odran's personal faith journey, from his childhood in Ireland, his time in the seminary, through a brief sojourn in Rome, his cushy assignment to a boy's school in Ireland, and so on. It's quite well-written and sympathetically done, although the parts set in Rome are a tad, erm, odd when compared with the rest of the book. Likewise, though it was a quick read, the book felt really well paced (it jumps back and forth through the decades of Odran's life), until the end. The end sort of rushes past you a little unexpectedly, which may be a deliberate narrative choice on Boyne's part, or it may not.

In any case, very enjoyable novel. ( )
  mw724 | Jul 7, 2021 |
A HISTORY OF LONELINESS seems an apt title for a book with a priest as the narrator, for I have often thought that a priest's life must necessarily be one of the loneliest imaginable. So there's that. But author John Boyne gives us so much more in this novel of Ireland and the Catholic Church that covers nearly forty years, from the seventies well into the new century. The novel's narrator, Dublin-born Father Odran Yates, tells us from the beginning that he became a priest mostly because his mother TOLD him he had a vocation. He entered seminary at sixteen and spent seven years studying. Because he excelled, his last year of study was spent in Rome, where he acted as night-assistant to the Pope, including the brief papacy of Pope John Paul I in the summer of 1978. And this last bit is key, in that Boyne implies that the pope's sudden death after just 33 days in office may not have been from natural causes. But this is primarily a story of family, friendship, and - most of all - Ireland and the Catholic Church, and the early days of the sexual abuse scandals of the Church. Odran Yates is an extremely likable, sympathetic character, who seems perfectly happy in his life as a priest - until, after nearly thirty years of this idyllic post, he is abruptly reassigned from his work as a college teacher/librarian to fill in at a parish where Tom Cardle, another priest and his best friend from seminary days, has been removed, the last of many sudden reassignments. The narrative goes back and forth from the seventies up to 2014 with many stops in between. We learn of tragic events from Odran's childhood, mysterious and dark events from his seminary days, his short-lived obsession with an Italian woman during his year in Rome. And we see him dealing with his change in status as a priest - how people see and treat him - once the sex scandals have become public. Odran himself seems to be a complete innocent in the chain of events that transpire through the years, but is he? A HISTORY OF LONELINESS is a beautifully written and deeply disturbing book, thoroughly Irish, and one of the fiercest indictments of the Catholic Church I have ever read. I knew that John Boyne was a talented writer, having read his novel, THE ABSOLUTIST. I knew too that he gained international fame with his YA novel, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS (which I have not read). He's written more than a dozen adult novels and other YA books too, and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and won numerous awards. So. This guy, who just turned fifty, has really chalked up an impressive resume. But this book is simply such a compelling, riveting story of the sometimes shameful inner workings of the Catholic Church. Beautiful. Moving. Dark. Deeply Disturbing. My very highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | May 21, 2021 |
Book on CD performed by Gerald Boyle

Father Odran Yates has spent thirty years as a teacher and librarian at a boys’ school. He has no real ambition to rise in the ranks of the Church. Although he excelled academically and even served a year in Rome as the Pope’s night attendant, he has been content “behind the high walls and closed gates of this private and erudite enclave.” But just as the scandal of predatory pedophile priests erupts, the bishop moves Odran to a local parish who priest has been removed. That priest is Odran’s best friend from seminary. Odran must come to terms with the ugly truth of a longterm coverup by the Church, and with his own role.

What marvelous writing! Odran narrates the story, but moves from time period to time period, from 2001 back to 1964, then forward to 2010, and back to 1972, etc. Through his recollections he reveals his history of loneliness … the family tragedy that leads to his entering the seminary, the experiences there (good and bad), his obsession with a woman in a coffee shop, his conflicted feelings about his mother, sister and nephews, and his struggles to understand and embrace his Church and his country.

His final realizations about his life are painful to witness. My heart about broke for Odran, and at the same time I was appalled at his willful ignorance.

Boyne gives us characters who are conflicted and run the gamut of human behavior and emotion. Some are angry and lash out, other are cowed and submissive. Some are understanding and compassionate, other defensive and determined to hide. There are times when I just want to slap Odran, and other when I long to comfort and console him.

This is a book I will be thinking about for a long time.

Gerald Boyle does a marvelous job of narrating the audiobook. He has many characters to deal with and he has the vocal skills to deftly handle this. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 3, 2021 |
Another poignant read from John Boyne. One of this novel’s major themes is the fall from favour of priests within contemporary Catholic Ireland. Very moving. ( )
  Mercef | Jul 3, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
St Thomas Aquinas considered "wilful ignorance" a grave sin against faith, and this is the indictment that Boyne builds against Odran, and against the priests who knew, might have known, must have known the reasons for some of their number being moved by the hierarchy "from Billy to Jack". Odran is named after a saint, the charioteer of St Patrick and first martyr of Ireland. This is surely ironic, for his namesake avoids confrontation wherever he can. The paedophiles are on trial at last, but the silent enablers of crime are also indicted. This scorching novel takes the reader to a wasteland, "a country of drug addicts, losers, criminals, paedophiles and incompetents", as Odran finally admits that he has not been telling us the whole story, and that the confiding tone of his voice is not to be trusted. John Boyne writes with compelling anger about the abuses of power and the dangers of submission.
added by ozzer | editThe Guardian, Helen Dunmore (Oct 3, 2014)
 
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Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.

E. M. Forster
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I did not become ashamed of being Irish until I was well into the middle years of my life.
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"The riveting narrative of an honorable Irish priest who finds the church collapsing around him at a pivotal moment in its history. Propelled into the priesthood by a family tragedy, Odran Yates is full of hope and ambition. When he arrives at Clonliffe Seminary in the 1970s, it is a time in Ireland when priests are highly respected, and Odran believes that he is pledging his life to "the good." Forty years later, Odran's devotion is caught in revelations that shatter the Irish people's faith in the Catholic Church. He sees his friends stand trial, colleagues jailed, the lives of young parishioners destroyed, and grows nervous of venturing out in public for fear of disapproving stares and insults. At one point, he is even arrested when he takes the hand of a young boy and leads him out of a department store looking for the boy's mother. But when a family event opens wounds from his past, he is forced to confront the demons that have raged within the church, and to recognize his own complicity in their propagation, within both the institution and his own family. A novel as intimate as it is universal, A History of Loneliness is about the stories we tell ourselves to make peace with our lives. It confirms Boyne as one of the most searching storytellers of his generation"-- "An honorable priest recalls his life and ultimately confronts his own complicity in the heinous acts of his best friend from the seminary"--

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Father Odran Yates is a good man. Dedicated to his vocation since entering Cloncliffe College seminary at seventeen, he has lived through betrayal, controversy and public condemnation of some of his dearest friends. Through all of this, he has remained firm in his belief.

But something plagues his mind as the years pass. A feeling that there were things he didn't see, chances he missed. People he has let down. Is Father Yates as blameless as he 's always thought himself to be? And what of the Church he has given his life to?

It has taken John Boyne fifteen years and twelve novels to write  about his home country of Ireland, but he has done so now in his most powerful book yet. A History of Loneliness is a courageous, deeply moving account of a nation and a man living through a period of cataclysmic, irreversible change.
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