From the Publisher
Something about the boat, perhaps its name, and the posture of
that boy caused me to defer my anxieties for the moment. It was so
rare to see someone that age stationary, somber. I was more
accustomed to a rowdy adolescent enthusiasm. This young man, I
realized, was exceptional only because of time and place. Maybe any
one of them in those circumstances would have been the same. Quiet.
But he caught my attention nevertheless and linked the moment to
tender places in the memory. Doomed boys and men: in retrospect
they all have that stillness.
--from The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre
The year is 1993 and Father Duncan MacAskill stands at a small Cape
Breton fishing harbour a few miles from where he grew up. Enjoying
the timeless sight of a father and son piloting a boat, Duncan
takes a moment's rest from his worries. But he does not yet know
that his already strained faith is about to be tested by his
interactions with a troubled boy, 18-year-old Danny MacKay.
Known to fellow priests as the "Exorcist" because of his special
role as clean-up man for the Bishop of Antigonish, Duncan has a
talent for coolly reassigning deviant priests while ensuring
minimal fuss from victims and their families. It has been a lonely
vocation, but Duncan is generally satisfied that his work is a
necessary defense of the church. All this changes when lawyers and
a policeman snoop too close for the bishop's comfort. Duncan is
assigned a parish in the remote Cape Breton community of Creignish
and told to wait it out.
This is not the first time Duncan has been sent away for knowing
too much: decades ago, the displeased bishop sent a more idealistic
Duncan to Honduras for voicing suspicions about a revered priest.
It was there that Duncan first tasted forbidden love, with the
beautiful Jacinta. It was also there that he met the courageous
Father Alfonso, who taught him more about spiritual devotion than
he had ever known back home. But when an act of violence in
Honduras shook Duncan to his core, he returned home a changed man,
willing to quietly execute the bishop's commands.
Now, decades later in Cape Breton, Duncan claims to his concerned
sister Effie that isolation is his preference. But when several
women seek to befriend him, along with some long-estranged friends,
Duncan is alternately tempted and unnerved by their attentions.
Drink becomes his only solace.
Attempting to distract himself with parish work, Duncan takes an
interest in troubled young Danny, whose good-hearted father sells
Duncan a boat he names The Jacinta. To Duncan's alarm, he
discovers that the boy once spent time with an errant priest who
had been dispatched by Duncan himself to Port Hood. Duncan begins
to ask questions, dreading the answers. When tragedy strikes, he
knows that he must act. But will his actions be those of a good
priest, or an all too flawed man?
Winner of the 2009 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Linden MacIntyre's
searing The Bishop's Man is an unforgettable and
complex character study of a deeply conflicted man at the precipice
of his life. Can we ever be certain of an individual's guilt or
innocence? Is violence ever justified? Can any act of contrition
redeem our own complicity?
From the Jacket
Praise for Linden MacIntyre:
"MacIntyre isn't just another face and larynx from television [but]
an honest-to-God writer…"
- Winnipeg Free Press
"MacIntyre is a fine writer."
- Alistair MacLeod
About the Author
Linden MacIntyre is one of Canada's most distinguished broadcast
journalists. The winner of nine Gemini Awards, he is the co-host of
CBC Television's the fifth estate and has been involved in
the production of documentaries and stories from all over the
world. Born in St. Lawrence, Newfoundland, MacIntyre grew up in
Port Hastings, Cape Breton. He now lives in Toronto with his wife,
fellow journalist Carol Off.
In 1999, MacIntyre published The Long Stretch, to
tremendous critical acclaim. This first novel was shortlisted for
the Dartmouth Book Award as well as the Canadian Booksellers
Association Libris Award.
MacIntyre's 2006 memoir Causeway: A Passage from
Innocence detailed his rural Cape Breton childhood. It
earned him both the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction
and the Evelyn Richardson Prize for Non-Fiction.
Published in 2009, The Bishop's Man was awarded
Canada's top fiction honour, the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
1. What techniques does MacIntyre use to build suspense?
Consider, for example, the opening phrase "The night before things
started to become unstuck . . . " How does MacIntyre's use of
foreshadowing and flashbacks affect your experience of the
2. Discuss the various forms of isolation in the novel. How does
isolation impact Duncan's life? Is it something he dislikes, or
3. Discuss the impact of suicide on the community of Creignish,
across generations. How has Duncan been affected by his own
interactions with suicide?
4. Years ago Duncan trained himself to ignore the protests of
errant priests. "Accuse the accuser, one of their best tactics," he
notes (p. 133). What drives Duncan to face his own transgressions?
What are your thoughts on his romantic alliances? What is your
opinion on the issue of celibacy in the priesthood?
5. At Braecrest, Dr. Shaw observes that Duncan''s father, his
"young woman" and his priesthood occupy the same place in his
memory, a place of "despair neutralized by hope" (p. 342). Do you
think this is an accurate assessment? What are the sources of
despair, and hope, in Duncan's life?
6. Duncan wonders, "So many of these priests are clever, funny
men. The freaks are so rare. But they''re the only ones I really
know. How have I managed to spend twenty-seven years in this
ministry and known only the bad ones? Why have I never been part of
the wider community of funny, clever and perhaps even holy men?
What is it that draws me to the tragic and the flawed?" (p. 264).
How would you answer these questions? Could Duncan have found a
different role in the church? Could his gifts have been put to
7. Duncan opens Book Three by describing "the day my life began
assuming what I expect will be its final shape." After meeting a
police officer, he momentarily considers Alfonso's teachings about
contrition, before listening to another unnamed voice in his head
(p. 207). What do you think of Alfonso's assertion that true
contrition must be an act that results in positive change? How
would things have been different if Duncan had heeded Alfonso's
words that day? Did he miss other opportunities? Where does the
other voice come from?
8. Discuss the behaviour of fathers in the novel, both
biological and within the clergy. How do they leave their mark?
What about the women of Creignish?
9. Discuss the strategies Effie and Duncan each developed as a
means of surviving their dysfunctional childhoods. How are they the
same? How different?
10. Discuss the role alcohol plays in the community of
Creignish, and in Duncan's life. What is it that finally gives him
the strength to stop drinking? Do you think he will stay sober?
11. "The phone aroused me on that Monday morning in Port Hood
and launched the narrative that I must now, with some reluctance,
share" (p. 5). Who do you suppose Duncan intends as his audience?
Do you always trust his words? Does your opinion of his reliability
change at any point as you read? What is your opinion of Duncan,
12. In their final conversation, Jude warns Duncan that
"There''s no morality in an institution. It''s just a thing" (p.
354). Do you agree?
13. What do you think of Duncan's gatekeeper role? Would you say
that he was complicit in a cover up? Or is he absolved because he
was following orders? Do other factors mitigate his
14. Could this novel still work if Duncan were a teacher,
soldier or politician?
15. How do you feel about the novel's ending? What is your
opinion of Duncan's actions near the end? Does he go far enough?
Where do you think his life will take him?
16. Consider the passages MacIntyre uses as epigraphs to each of
the four books in the novel. What is the significance of each?
17. This novel is a work of fiction that could be described as
"ripped from the headlines." How would you compare the experience
of reading this novel with that of reading news reports? What are
the pros and cons of each format?
About the Book
From an award-winning writer and one of Canada's foremost broadcast
journalists, comes a deeply wise and moving novel that explores the
guilty minds and spiritual evasions of Catholic priests.
Father Duncan MacAskill has spent most of his priesthood as the
"Exorcist" -- an enforcer employed by his bishop to discipline
wayward priests and suppress potential scandal. He knows all the
devious ways that lonely priests persuade themselves that their
needs trump their vows, but he's about to be sorely tested himself.
While sequestered by his bishop in a small rural parish to avoid an
impending public controversy, Duncan must confront the consequences
of past cover-ups and the suppression of his own human needs.
Pushed to the breaking point by loneliness, tragedy and sudden
self-knowledge, Duncan discovers how hidden obsessions and guilty
secrets either find their way to the light of understanding, or
poison any chance we have for love and spiritual peace.