Report on the Devil’s Advocate

The Devil’s Advocate by Morris West is an immensely powerful and moving experience of a book. I was passed a lovely first edition of this work by a good friend who felt it was something I might enjoy. Indeed he seems to know me better than myself as it is not something I would have picked up otherwise nor even felt inclined to read from the marketing blurb: a tale of an ageing priest sent off to verify specific acts relating to the potential beatification of a man in southern Italy following the Second World War. Hmmmm….

This development of characters in this novel is superb and relatively quickly one develops a sympathy for the protagonist. He is a man wrestling with self-doubt and caught up in a turbulent time. After a life serving the church and risen within its institutional hierarchy, he has been diagnosed with cancer a short time to live and has become despondent for all his accomplishments. Sent as the Devil’s Advocate (a senior clergyman charged to discover all the dirt that stands in the way of beatification) he undertakes a short, but deeply reflective and enlightening experience amongst a group of individuals all harbouring their own secrets, doubts and agendas as he unravels the stories surrounding the saint-to-be.

There is a collection of tales wrapped up in one in this novel and all the characters have a story to tell. West accomplishes this with great skill and what must have been some deep inner connection of his own to the experience. The ‘action’ takes places in post-war Italy and does stand as a reflection of its time with the political overtones of a fluid battle betwee4n fascists and communists. The atmosphere and setting are lushly set in an arid climate. The tale is spun out with a paucity that keeps one hungry for more and engaged throughout.

The book club generally enjoyed the read, but there were mixed reactions to the subject material, wondering how much it was clouded by the author’s own expewrience in the Roman Catholic faith. Some found the characterisation light and the ending ratyher abrupt. Noneless, the voting returned a respectable average of 6.36, based on Brian C 5.5, Shawn 7.5, Jim 5, Declan 7, Mike 7, Fergal 5.5 and Joe 7.

The nominations for the November read included: Joe – Travellers in the 3rd Reich (7), Declan – Erebus (13), Mike – This is Going to Hurt (10), and Fergal – I’ll be Gone in the Dark (6). So Michael Palin it is and our read is Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin.

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