Book reviews

Robert Eady’s Israel Madigan (Combermere, ON: Editio Sanctus Martinus, 2015)

Interesting plot, but lugubrious writing style .

A LinkedIn colleague asked if I would review this novel.  Excited that I could assist a publishing colleague, I agreed.  Unfortunately, Eady’s novel was a significant chore instead of a pleasurable reading experience.

The novel suffers excruciatingly from a dominance of “telling” instead of “showing”—the former being a characteristic of poor writing.  In fact, the verb “tell” and its variants and the narrator’s oft-repeated refrain that he would “like to briefly tell” (172) this and that appear frequently throughout the work.  Granted, that this novel is a first-person narrative may account for its tediousness, yet, in the hands of a skilled novelist, a successful first-person narrative can be accomplished.  Unfortunately, this is not a thick Charles Dickens novel, where the actions of various characters are anticipated with great expectation, even though most of Dickens’ novels normally run over several hundred pages.

Of course, the novel has its merits.  A scene where the main character visits a priest for confession involves dialogue which is realistic and not preachy (121ff).  Another character’s murder is described in tantalizingly brutal detail (312ff).  Beyond these episodes, the novel is a lugubrious account of a priest and his sidekick, who assist a young woman, Caitlin Madigan, escaping from the clutches of a former politician turned pimp.  The narrative is supposed to represent Caitlin as a modern Judith saving her son, Jake (named Israel later in the novel), from the evil former politician turned whoremaster, who thus symbolizes Holofernes.

Although the allegory works, it is unfortunate that the story is rendered in such a tedious way that the reader would most likely fall asleep several times, struggling to get through the narrative.  Even worse, the writing is consistently lugubrious and somniferous only until about seventy pages toward the end when the killings (the bludgeoning of the priest and the strangulation of Caitlin) are depicted.  Why should any reader wait so long to enjoy such good action?

That the narrator obviously has mental issues [affirmed explicitly when he says “You may have heard from some people already that I am crazy” (15), at novel’s end (316ff), and punctuated at several intervening points when he discourses on dead bodies being “effigies”] does not make his rendering of what happened a trustworthy account of events in the killing of his priest friend.  His mental condition does, however, justify the lugubrious narration as the unfortunate rantings of a mentally-ill person.

Moreover, while the following might be a minor technical error on the author’s part, it does speak to the narrator’s credibility and contradictory attitude about vulgar language and women.  The narrator’s affirmation “to bowdlerize or avoid” vulgar terms in his narrative to the murdered priest’s sister, even to the point of masking a vulgar term by saying that it “sounds like ‘mucked’” (14), did not prevent him from sanitizing Caitlin’s speech, when she explains that she attacked someone “because I thought a bitch’s brains had caught on fire” (225).

Overall judgment: a good attempt at transplanting the Judith/Holofernes account to modern circumstances, but the writing style is lugubrious and somniferous.  While I can definitely see this novel become a film about orthodox Canadian Catholics who fight for their church and who are involved in the reformation of a former prostitute, the film’s script, of course, would be much less verbose, the script being considerably shorter than (probably half of) this novel’s 331 pages.

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