Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.
I read Donoghue’s book Akin and liked it. My kids read Room in school, but I have not read it. This book sounded interesting so I requested it and was happy to get it.
“It seems to him that nature is God’s holiest language.”
“That’s the problem with the vow of obedience; it tends to make sheep of men.”
Three monks set out to start a monastery where no one else lives, away from worldly temptations. They find an island off Ireland and settle there. Artt, the leader, and Cormac, the second monk, are men of faith. Trian (I constantly read this as “train”) is young. He was given by his parents to the monastery. Once they find their island, they begin to test their ability to obey Artt and to trust God to provide all that they need beyond the minuscule cache of supplies they brought with them in their boat.
SPOILERS ABOUND HERE–YOU ARE WARNED
I should have known this book was being too nice to religion! There was the “duh, duh, de dum” moment of music when someone mentioned that the young monk had to squat to pass water. “Ugh,” my brain screamed! “Please not another stupid woman pretending to be a man book.” I wanted to quit, but I’m mostly glad I did not.
When, later in the story, young Trian is ill, the monk caring for him finally sees the young man with out his underpants on and gets an eyeful. Annoyingly, like with the mental illness diagnosis in Sorrow and Bliss (unless my eyes rolled too hard and too long and missed it), we are not told exactly what type or combination of genitalia Trian has but the word “androgyni” is bandied about.
“He’s never seen one of these botches that Pliny calls androgyni. Not a true male, made in God’s image, nor a true female, shaped to bear young.”
Did I mention this monk was left-handed? Never any issues in history. [For the unenlightened, the left hand was not allowed to be the dominate hand for centuries. Even well into the 20th Century people forced children to change from left- to right-handed.
So, naturally, once the secret is out it disrupts everyone. The Red State GOP monk, Artt, is horrified and can’t cope. The Blue State Democrat monk, Cormac sides with Trian and they simply must leave the Red State Island. So much for serving a higher purpose. The Catholic Church was founded on the idea that you must “pee like Jesus to be like Jesus,” so I’m guessing old Artt missed the way Trian peed? Could have saved themselves a lot of heart ache if he’d just paid attention before or during that boat ride.
Holy-hit-us-over-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer-Batman! So modern! I found it truly difficult to imagine how Trian had lived? With all the superstition abounding back in that day, you’d think he/she/they would have been left out to die. And, in a Catholic Church that required the Pope to prove he had two you-know-whats and one dangly thing (I don’t want spam) you’d think they’d have checked Trian out when he arrived at that first monastery–wouldn’t you?? Apparently not. Just like in those woman passing as a man books I’ve thrown across the room.
It is not news that there have always been a very few children born with different combinations of genitalia or with deformed genitals. That has happened throughout history. Even today most parents would be shocked to be told of such an outcome for their baby. Today, it can be dealt with through surgery and testing to identify the child’s true gender/sex. Back in 7th Century Ireland, he might have been allowed to live hidden away, but that’s a pretty big “might”. I just did not buy that this young monk would have been alive to go on this journey and that ruined the book for me.
In spite of my strong feelings on the ending, this was another well-written story by the author. It more than kept my attention throughout. I would caution very sensitive readers who love birds and animals–there are some rough spots in this book. Remember, it is a deserted island (no other humans) and the monks did what they had to do to survive.
One more comment: I do not like what I call the “verbing” of nouns. Here is the example from this book: “…he griddles oatcakes.” “To griddle” is now a verb? (Eye roll). Donoghue is a better writer than this.
This is based on the writing, not on whether I agreed with the (to me) far-fetched idea that Trian would have been welcomed into a monetary in 7th Century Ireland.
Haven by Emma Donoghue