How do you even begin to define such a strange work? “Testament of Gideon Mack” is definitely not a usual pick for your bedtime reading, yet it reads peculiarly easy for a couple of sitting at the fireplace, if you will. It has that fast, enchanting plot you would normally discover in a paperback thriller, but deals with such unusual subjects like faith, confusion, love, sex, and yes, -even apostasy.
The book is a novel disguised as a memoir of a priest that goes with the name of Gideon Mack, as the title faithfully suggests. James Robertson has intricately woven a tale of a man riddled with paradox : a priest who didn’t believe in God, engaged in extramarital sexual affair with his friend’s wife, and rolled marijuana joints for an old friend. What was even more other-worldly is his alleged encounter with the Devil himself, which he met while he was missing in the belly of Scotland, -following his attempt to rescue a dog.
This encounter is the central theme of the book, acting as a powerful allegory for his whole life, and maybe as an attempt by the author to tackle the world in general. For how best would you explain a world ridden with grievous problems like poverty, famine and diseases? There’s no hypothesis that will serve this purpose better other than a tired God. A God who planned something good for His creation, yet end up seeing not much use in it, grew exhausted, and abandoned them to fend off for themselves. At this point, it is decidedly interesting that Robertson did not turn to atheism as an easy way out. On the contrary, he insists that God (and the Devil) exists, if only to get disenchanted to continue whatever He has planned for mankind.
Of course, such a wild testimony by the character leads to many problems for him. To begin with, his position as a priest is too rigid to afford him a gamble in dogmatical theology. Even if you undress him of his frock, it still will not justify Gideon’s affair with Elsie Moffat, which was his own wife’s best friend and his best friend’s wife at the same time. Of course, one could always argue that he’s just a man troubled by his own uneasiness about his faith and everything, but that’s beside the point. The goal of this book, -or so it seems to me, is to get you questioning about life in itself, and why does it have to be this way. Again, notice that Robertson never resorted to the easy premise that there is no God. He insisted, through his character, that there is God, -and by extension, life after death.
Often morose, at times libidinous, “Testament of Gideon Mack” is a book where you will need to tread carefully; it serves as a companion while you were asking hard questions about life. Yet, don’t let this discourage you, as Robertson is also a master storyteller. The book definitely has a lot of entertainment value, even if you only look for exotic folklores and legends. Don’t pass this one.
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