Order for £10.79 (free p&p) from The Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Breath of Night, By Michael Arditti. Arcadia, £11.99

 

Matters of extreme religious or political belief rarely trouble modern British novelists, whose default setting is agnostic/liberal. The nagging question behind most criticism of Graham Greene is "Surely he didn't believe in sin? In God? In Hell?" A similar worry may affect readers of Michael Arditti's latest novel. Greene would have appreciated the setting in the steamy Philippines, a country corrupted by an unholy alliance of church and state, and the cast of apostate priests, brutal police, and a young protagonist thrown into a world almost beyond his moral comprehension.

Get this book at the discounted price of £10.79 from The Independent Bookshop or call 0843 0600 030

 

Philip Seward is 21 when he meets Julia Tremayne at Cambridge, but they are only together for four years when Julia is killed in a road crash. Philip drifts until Julia's mother, Isabel, approaches him with an extraordinary request. To offset their Catholic family's profits from the Philippines, her uncle Julian had worked as a priest among the poor in the islands until his murder by Marxist guerrillas. A cult has sprung up around reports of miracles; Isabel wants to gather evidence to have Julian declared a saint.

Philip reads the letters written home by Julian; of his love for ordinary Filipinos, his disgust at the rich, and growing political radicalism. In Manila, he is met by the family's agent, camp and ageing Max. A thuggish young man, Dennis, is appointed Philip's driver and minder for his quest. The world described by Julian still exists: the rich still live on fortified estates, the poor scratch a living. It becomes clear that those in power regarded Julian as a traitor to his class. His work among the poor and contacts with guerrillas had led to his arrest and imprisonment.

Is he a saint? Here the agnostic mind could gag at Julian's miraculous powers, but the book offers a wonderful study of a near-medieval world, where the good are beset by monsters (a scaly Imelda Marcos makes an appearance). The enervating heat, cock fights, giant rubbish dumps on which thousands of scavengers exist: through all of this Philip moves, until at last the truth of the holy life and strange death of Julian is revealed.

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