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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

A History of Loneliness - A February Buddy Read

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2014, 384 pages

A little slow getting this one posted - ah well. This book was discovered by Donna and is another departure from what we both usually read. That's kind of the point, right? The title didn't appeal to me at all, sounds like a bit of a downer, but it is highly rated on GR so we thought we'd give it a try.


This starts off as a story of the quiet life of a quiet man who, on the certainty of his mother that he has a "calling", becomes a priest. Set in Ireland, it takes place from the 1970's through 2013. After the seminary he is assigned to a boys' school instead of a parish and he happily settles into his quiet, removed-from-the-world life.

Odran Yates (main character) makes one lifelong friend in seminary - Tom. Unlike Odran, Tom does not feel he has a calling nor does he want to be a priest, but his father (a brutal man) is forcing him to stay in seminary. The story follows the lives of these two men and how they weave in and out, together and apart over the years.

The core of the story develops around the Catholic Church and the rumors, then the facts of priests abusing young boys. It examines the way the Church officials respond and what their lack of response and hiding of offending priests does to communities and to other priests.


Donna and I found Odran to be a man with a good heart but with definite blinders on when it came to the pedophilia issue. He chose to make excuses or not even notice when suspicious actions should have alerted him to abuses. This is SO frustrating as a reader - it's kind of like watching a horror movie and the hero is going to open a door that you KNOW he shouldn't open!! We just wanted to shake him out of his apathy.

“How can something still feel so painful after twenty-eight years, I asked myself. Is there no recovery from the traumas of our youth?”

For both of us, the biggest failing of the story was its format. Each chapter jumped back and forth between various years. I've read many books with multiple timelines and don't usually have any trouble staying in the story. This one though, not so much. I could not find any reason for the non-linear format. For me, it did not strengthen the story or even serve the story. One chapter would be in 1972, then 2000, then 1989, then 1978, then 2012. What? He's young and teaching school, he's older and visiting a sister, he's young and in seminary, he's older and meeting with a cardinal. Did not like that jumping around at all.

That being said, the story does an admirable job of illustrating a disturbing time in the Catholic Church and how many priests probably felt and dealt with the situation. It's a little sad, a little disturbing, a little about friendship and family relationships and one man's relationship with his Church.

Reading Challenge: #BooklistQueen21 book borrowed from the library

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