Book reviews

Thomas Rydahl’s The Hermit (Oneworld Publications, 2016)

A complicated whodunit, useful to fight against infanticide, but 200 pages could have been cut.

Reading these 469 pages was tedious, especially since the infanticide of the baby abandoned by his mother is not as interesting as other angles, such as:

Why the main character Erhard abandoned his wife and two daughters in Denmark to live in Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands.

Why Erhard steals a ring finger from a dead man and duct tapes it to his own hand, whose ring finger he cut off when he abandoned his wife and daughters.  This is indeed an odd behavior, which is never fully explained.  When he adds the finger to his hand, it “stirs a pleasure all the way down in his belly, hell, down in his cock” (14).  A psychological literary critic would have a very Freudian thing to say about that!

Why the young man Raúl looks up to Erhard as a father figure.

How Erhard, a nearly seventy-year old man, could engage in fornication with a flabby middle-aged woman over the span of six pages and ejaculate prematurely (318-323).  Since 200 pages could have been cut, these six could have been reduced to one sentence instead of an accumulation of huge paragraphs which were meant to be arousing, I guess, but which were tedious instead.

Despite these more interesting angles, the novel has merit for pro-life activists as a tool in the fight against infanticide, the killing of the newborn.  Erhard is virtually ignorant of religious values, demonstrated when he inaccurately says that “To hurt a child is the most unforgivable act [….]  Even in Catholicism, which otherwise revolves around forgiveness” (58).  How could anyone not know that Catholic Christianity teaches that all sins are forgivable?

Yet Erhard’s compassion for the three-month-old baby boy whose death by starvation is the exposition of the novel is noteworthy.  Repeatedly, the irreligious Erhard expresses the natural law love that humans should have for newborn life.  “How can someone abandon a child?” (51), he says.  Although he thinks that no parent would “starve a child to death and abandon it in a cardboard box” (104), Erhard does not condemn the mother for the child’s abandonment and eventual death because “a mother is so beautiful” (348).  At novel’s end, when he finally locates the mother who abandoned the baby boy, she affirms that she cannot abort the new child she is carrying (“I can’t.  I can’t kill it”), so Erhard then encourages her with a simple life-affirming command: “Just be with your child” (469).

Is the novel worth two days’ time reading?  Yes, if one wants to follow the actions of a most unlikely detective.  What is perhaps most compelling about the novel is what it can teach contemporary society.  At a time when those who support abortion and euthanasia want to promote and legalize the killing of handicapped newborns, it’s refreshing to know that even a most irreligious character knows intuitively from natural law that newborn human life is worthy of respect and protection.

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