Friday, December 05, 2008

book review - The Testament of Gideon Mack

There is not much point trying to put a gloss on things. I simply didn’t click with this book and the longer it went on the payoff became less likely to be rewarding, which is sadly exactly what turned out to be the case.

James Robertson puts a great deal of effort into creating a context for the story of Gideon Mack, with some web sites still going that give the impression that this is a factual story aka Lost. But all he succeeds in doing is by starting off pretending that this book is based on a testament that has been uncovered by a journalist who has in turn sent it to the publisher who is narrating the introduction.

The basic story is that a preacher went missing and after he was found dead one of the final things he had done was complete a history of his life. It is that document that forms the story. The problem, and this is a major one, is that the contents of the testament that are about to follow are shared in this introduction.

Telling the reader that they are about to read the thoughts of a man who said he met the devil and then shocked his congregation by telling them before running off to go and die on a bleak mountain rather gives the story away.

It would be alright if the testament gripped you but a story of a weak man’s life through a dour upbringing in the home of a Scotch minister and then into a relationship he never really wanted is tedious. Then add to that the main story about meeting the devil coming rather too late to revive your interest and all you are waiting for is to see how things end.

Of course you know he dies and so it is left to a postscript with the journalist heading back to the village where it all happened. The conclusion he comes to is that what the minister said happened probably all did, including the devil bit. But by then you are cheering not because the plot has been concluded but the book has finished.

This is a trawl and the central story never really grabbed me. The idea of someone meeting the devil means not a great deal to me. Is it shocking? Not really and in a country that has legends galore it seems odd that this modern attempt to add another literary one falls so short.

Ultimately the testament of Gideon Mack is a story of man who compromised his whole life and starved of love didn’t really know where to find it or how to demand it of others. The result is a fatally flawed character that ironically finds the love he is looking for in the shape of the devil. If you had invested more interest there are probably profound things there that can be unravelled and digested. Unfortunately for me this is as far as the thought process goes.

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