||The Review of: The Book of Guilt
by Desmond McNally
Picture if you will a large brooding house called "Castle Keep" sitting high on a hill, its outline blurred by mist and screened by a forest. If this setting persuades you that this is yet another tale of a haunted house, then you must be patient and prepare yourself for, as the Monty Python show always promised, "something completely different".
The opening pages of this book pose some intriguing questions. Who is Professor Reemie, this odd, puzzling individual, who announces his forthcoming death, using a manner of speech that is reminiscent of an earlier age though he's part of the contemporary world? And who is the enigmatic "Confessor" with whom characters from the novel's cast meet throughout the story?
The Goode family, residents of Castle Keep, consists of Phineas and Marguerite, the parents of Gwynne and Vivianne, their younger and elder daughters respectively. The members of this family, we soon find out, are suffering from the most harrowing guilt for the soul-sapping misfortunes they believe they've brought on themselves. All of them take turns with the "Confessor" to unburden themselves, and through these sessions we learn (among other things) that Gwynne became deaf at the age of four, yet remains the most emotionally stable person in her family. Her father, we are told, deserted his family for another woman, and their resulting progeny, a daughter, had died at a very young age in a tragic accident. We also discover that as a small girl Vivianne had started to exhibit bizarre behavior, experiencing something like ecstasy through self-mutilation, and eventually attempted suicide at the age of nine.
The ubiquitous "Confessor" guides us through the inner torment of the Goodes as they attempt to heal themselves individually and collectively. It isn't clear how any of them can attain happiness after witnessing such calamity. The reader will certainly agonize on behalf of Vivianne, the main victim. In one poignant passage, her great anguish prompts her to cry out for help to Gwynne, using the sisters' own sign language.
There are many passages, replete with metaphors and symbolism, and full of various disquieting descriptions of events. They may not be salacious, but they are unsettling in the extreme. It is truly a welcome break then when Nathan, a young man who befriends the recovering Phineas, steps into this bleakest of pictures. He is surely the least troubled person in Ms. Lloyd's cast of characters.
This disturbing concoction of evil, self-hatred and guilt is not for the idle mind, nor for the weak of heart. Even the finale is somewhat draining. The misfortunes suffered by the Goodes are far from the ordinary vicissitudes of life experienced by most of us. With her bold and stylish prose, Ms. Lloyd has rendered the Goodes' grief tangible. The Book of Guilt is an exceptional novel, at once distressing and full of compassion.