By Steve Stockman
I am always keen to investigate Irish writers and Bateman being Northern Irish has a special fascination. The movie Divorcing Jack which I havenít seen lifted him into the big time but the first book I read was Maid Of The Mist and I wasnít madly impressed. Pop novels I decided. However if the Canadian setting of Maid intrigued me, the setting of Rathlin Island (he spells it Wrathlin) was like a burning bush. My coastal home is yards from a beach that overlooks the said island. Add to this the fact that a friend studying theology in novels between 1950 and 2000 suggested it might be interesting and Iím in there.
It was a winner. I got immediately gripped with setting, subject matter and the driving story line and dark humor. Indeed at times I wondered how Bateman writes. Does he just sit down at a keyboard and knock it out from start to finish without as much as a break or revision. It reads that way. Fast, funny, loose. Yes it is pop lit but not without a whole lot of spiritual observation of some depth. When our hero is sent to check out the truth of rumors that the Messiah has been born, a girl, on Wrathlin island he and his wife go off to the idyllic idea of solitude and novel writing but get caught up in a murderous fundamentalist fringe of the Roman Catholic Church who believe that all necessary measures must be taken to protect the hope of the world. For me the fascination was Batemanís seeming spiritual provocation on issues such as puritanical asceticism, woman and the dangerous consequences of believing that God has given you a word of prophecy. He's setting them in a context of Catholicism.
So thereís the fast moving
plot interlaced with questions to ponder. At least to ponder for someone
like myself who spends every waking moment and gets paid exorbitant amounts
of money to think on such things. Iím not sure how the average man on the
street would see it. The most memorable bit of the whole thing for me and
a wee inkling into Batemanís pathetic but funny all the same sense of humor
is when a body that he suspects to be Bill Oddie is brought into the midst
of the islanders. His wife asks him if this he was a baddie and Stark replies,
ďNo. He was a Goodie!Ē Wonderful.
This is a fascinating book and one that Iíd recommend to all of us who are wrestling with the things we have to learn and erase from our evangelical sub culture. This is a book about growing up in the bowels of an evangelical church and hating it for the most part. The cover quotes from the book itself ďMost teenagers try so hard to be different. I tried to be the same.Ē Based on their holidays in Portafino year after year our sad young man detests the fact that their super spiritual dad says lengthy prayers at mealtimes in front of the girl he fancies and how he tries to preach to her parents on the beach. And fatherís spiritual fruit is not so abundant when it comes to his temper or treatment of mother and children.
Of course the big controversy
was about whether or not this was the a biographical book about Frankís
real life dad the evangelical thinkers hero Francis Schaeffer. It would
be a sad indictment if it was. I am not so sure I certainly believe it
to be about the culture his dad lived and ministered in but maybe I have
more faith that what the great Schaeffer said about truth and love being
inseparable is such a zillion light years from the hypocrite villain of
this enjoyably funny and perceptive book that I just cannot believe it.
I was so enthralled by the book and indeed its wise observations of a culture
that move in that I investigated the Orthodox Church web page that Schaeffer
is in charge of. Frank Jr became Orthodox some time ago. I have to say
that his writings there were a little Sixth Form and arrogantly prejudiced
which put me off the follow-up Saving Grandmother and put a new
slant on his agenda in Portafino. So read the book. You will laugh your
heart out and scratch your soul. Do with the book what you conclude you
need to do with evangelical culture work out what to heed and what
you need to do away with.