Thomas Keneally is a writer of extraordinary range: from Schindlerýs List to The Great Shame his storytelling has engaged millions of readers. Now, after a brief departure into non-fiction, he is back with a novel as timely as it is enduring.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Keneally steers a young, nave Australian priest through a series of complex moral choices in his latest novel, which takes place early in WWII with the Japanese forces steadily advancing southward. The insular existence of Catholic cleric Frank Darragh is disturbed when he is approached by a beautiful married woman named Kate Heggarty, whose husband has been captured by the Germans in North Africa. Darragh tries to comfort her, but Heggarty retains her combative stance toward traditional Catholicism as she drifts toward infidelity as a possible means of solace. In spite of his halfhearted efforts to deny her charms, Darragh's growing infatuation becomes an issue when Heggarty is suddenly murdered and the local detectives try to implicate him. Darragh also faces trouble from his conservative monsignor, who sends the priest away on retreat for involving the parish in the investigation. Despite the admonitions of his superior, Darragh puts considerable effort into trying to clarify his role in Heggarty's death, until a U.S. soldier from a nearby American base provides a stunning and compromising revelation regarding the killer's identity. Keneally portrays his protagonist's innocence with a keen but subtle sense of irony, and the surprising plot twists help him steer clear of the usual clichs afflicting novels about compromised clerics. But the true excellence of the book lies in the author's ability to blend his depiction of a seaside village in crisis as the Japanese threaten to invade with the nuances of morality and faith that constantly keep Darragh at odds with himself. The novel lacks the weight of Schindler's List or Keneally's narrative history The Great Shame, but it is a sterling effort on a smaller scale. (Mar. 18) Forecast: Sales should be solid, despite the out-of-the-way setting and relatively narrow scope. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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1 . Very disappointing!
Posted August 29, 2009 by carlaj , westonI was very disappointed with this book. The novel would have been a interesting short story. Very drawn out.
June 07, 2004
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Excerpt from Office of Innocence by Thomas Keneally
Penitents, kneeling in the confessional, can be divided into predictable categories. The tennis-playing young priests at White City on Mondays, drinking beer supplied, despite war rationing, by a Knight of the Southern Cross who owned a hotel at Edgecliff, often did so. They spoke only of generalized types of sin and sinner, being careful not to violate the strict seal of the sacrament of penance. So there were, for instance, the self-congratulators, muttering minor sins; the shame-hot boy masturbators; the guilt-obsessed, so hungry for pardon that they would confess, if given a chance, many times a day.
Amongst priests, as amongst the laity, the confessional was a focus of humor, just as, privately, it was a focus of dread and hope. The curates sitting by the tennis courts all agreed that hearing the utterly predictable confessions was an ordeal, and boring. Young priests groaned through their Saturday afternoons, leaving their radios, the staccato of horse races, the reports of Sheffield Shield or rugby league at the Sydney Cricket Ground, to do their personal penance in confessional boxes too hot in summer, too cold in winter. Then a quick meal and their Saturday-evening stints in the box began, with all the banal confessions of disobedience, small theft, secret desire, shifty touches, and self-soiling.
Frank Darragh, a young man of quieter disposition than the other curates, had had an early experience which caused him not to think so cynically, either of the boxes or of those who entered them in piety or desperate guilt. It had occurred on St. Patrick's Day 1939, a few days after Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia. It was, insofar as any day ever was in the seminary, a day of special meals in the refectory, and a day of remission from the Lenten fast which had recently made the seminary bill of fare more frugal than ever. But with an abscessed tooth, he had not been able to do much feasting and was walking down the long driveway towards Darley Road, with a pass from the rector, to go to the dentist. Because he was a pale, lean-faced young man close to being ordained a priest, he would be treated free and for God's love by either of the chatty Cusack brothers, who had a dentistry practice down the hill in Manly.