Jan. 31st, 2013

commonpeople1: (Sea)
The Testament of Gideon MackThe Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A silent unkept man with a limp stays in a remote guesthouse in Scotland for some days. One day, he disappears into the hills and his body is found frozen some time later. When the authorities investigate his room in the guesthouse, they find 300 pages of his testament tucked away at the top of the wardrobe: a testament of how he grew up in the house of an unloving minister, how he met his wife (and fell in love with her best friend), how he became a minister himself (but without any faith), how he grew to have friends and enemies in his small parish of Monimaskit, how he fell one day inside a gorge while trying to rescue a dog and how he met the Devil in a subterranean cave when everyone else had given him up for dead.

Who was Gideon Mack and can we trust his testament? I didn't care for the first 300 pages - I almost gave up on the book several times. But my curiosity about the Devil kept me going: I wanted to know how James Robertson would choose to depict him, what he would say to Gideon during the 3 days they spent together in a cave under the gorge. This turned out to be a very neat trick on Robertson's part since by the time you get to the Devil's episode you have grown to know more about the people in Gideon's life - a very run-of-the-mill, slightly depressing and all-too-normal life - and care for some of them.

There's an interesting question in the novel about history and its meaning. One of Gideon's closest friends is an old atheist who suffers from severe health problems and relies on his visits once a week to roll up her Marijuana joints. The only thing she believes in are the stories left behind through Archaeology. In a parallel vein, Gideon's first encounter with the supernatural is a mysterious stone he finds in the woods and which nobody else believes exists. Can we only trust what our senses tell us? Does something exist if it can be touched? Or is there a world beyond our own, maybe not necessarily better, but just as strange as the living's?

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