Friday, April 18, 2008

Father David (Andrew O'Hagan's "Be Near Me")

I think I might have been too hard on Father David in my last post. The reason that I decided to read Be Near Me in the first place was because I read Andrew O'Hagan's "In truth" in the Guardian - his reflection on one of the moments that led to the character of Father David:
I was alone in a cafe near the Rue Balzac when the first seeds of Be Near Me were planted. [...] I remember noticing a grey-haired priest who was sitting alone at a table beneath the window. He stared at his hands and after a while he stirred his coffee and a tear rolled down his cheek.
That's all he says about the memory. But it was enough to make me interested.

O'Hagan says that he imagines Father David's voice to have about it "something both wise and deluded at the same time," which I found to be true, and also that Father David's narration "may animate a true moral drama in the mind of a sensitive reader."

I did find that I was continuously slightly confused, while reading, about whether I liked Father David or not. O'Hagan is adamant that a character does not need to be likeable, but I think in this instance it goes back to his point about a moral drama. Father David wishes to give a full account of himself. I was confused about whether I liked him or not because I could not quite decide how immoral it was for him to harbour such illusions about himself - and, by implication, how immoral all of our life illusions are in general... Towards the end of the book, though, I was intensely concerned for him when it became unclear how his story would finally end - and whether, with his growing awareness of some of his delusions, he would decide to live or die.

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