Timely tale of innocent abroad in tough times
Fiction Bishop's Move Colm Keena Somerville Press, €17.35, tpbk, 192 pages
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350
Journalist Colm Keena has in recent years seen no shortage of material for his first novel. As public affairs correspondent with The Irish Times, he has also written books on Bertie Ahern, the finances of Charles Haughey, and on the infamous Ansbacher Deposits. However, in the early 1990s, Keena won a Hennessy Short Story Award and now he has returned to fiction to produce a compelling first novel which bravely and originally deals with some of the big contemporary issues of our recent history – an engagement that is so often lacking among the rest of our writing community.
Keena's book is the story of a priest who, on his appointment as bishop, gets into serious trouble with the hierarchy for confronting some unexpected temporal truths. Such is the dearth of talent in a collapsed church, that Father Christopher has become a Bishop almost by accident and soon realises the less than holy wider world that he has moved into at his own ordination party – which is (in a great touch) being paid for by property developer Buzzie Hogan, and attended by no less than the Taoiseach Philip Brady (suitably similar to Bertie Ahern).
Financial expert Michael O'Mahoney and his attractive but troubled wife are also in attendance.
Keena's plot is highly plausible even if some of the later scenes are somewhat not – although this is a permissible and even necessary licence in a caper like this. The plausibility lies in a major property deal that includes a huge transfer of church property to the developer Hogan, and the corruption around it, which Bishop Christopher discovers.
Keena's book is fresh and skillful in making the Bishop not some cold caricature but a very human figure and an innocent abroad in a Celtic Tiger world of sharks and chancers. He is also a man with very human and understandable needs, as we see with some unexpected sexual escapades, as well as some violent episodes as the whole story unravels.
A couple's strange and reckless car journey across midlands Ireland is really well written and gives the story a truly haunting, disturbing quality.
Keena is an ambitious writer and tackles big subjects such as the vacuum of spirituality at the heart of modern life. The recent years in this country suggest that what has replaced it has been an amoral free-for-all of greed and incompe-tence, with no thought for the consequences. His use of property as a metaphor for these unhealthy obsessions is compelling.
It's a lively and original story which promises much for the future.
– Eamon Delaney