Unpleasant Tales, a man obsessed with change, though the changes he desires extend beyond himself and into the world in which he lives. He is a priest who, tired of being "the begrimed receptacle" for the offences of others, applies the philosophy, dedication and ruthlessness of the family trade – assassination – to his work.
"As a child he had been brutal, a kicker of cats, a resolute swatter of flies..." His parents savagely murdered, this boy is taken in by Uncle Guido, their avenger, a kindly murderer who would see him enter the church. Torturo's education is thus entrusted to cigar-fancier Father Falzon, who encourages the young prodigy to read very widely, and gives him a piece of deathbed advice: "Don't give yourself away. Not until you have them check-mated."
As Torturo's career within the church first falters, and then progresses at pace, he follows that advice to the letter, even withholding his plans from the reader. Though we are able to guess his intended destination – "playing the faithful servant", he hopes to "usurp the master" – his purpose and methods remain obscure. This allows us to appreciate the fruition of his plans all the more.
I almost felt as if I should have read this book in French – it reminded me very much of reading Gide. I can easily imagine it in Gallimard's Collection Folio alongside books like Les caves du Vatican. Perhaps that stems from the shared subject matter – Catholicism and amorality – but I think also there's a similarity of tone and a similar intellectualism.
The book's dedication nods to another gay writer of that period, Baron Corvo, on whose Hadrian VII this is roughly patterned. This novel could perhaps be criticised for its portrayal of homosexuals – Bishop Vivan, an early ally of Father Torturo, is something of a giggly, effete stereotype – though a defence is that the main characters, good and bad, are Catholic priests, not generally an occupation in which you would expect to find healthy, happy gay men.
The Translation of Father Torturo dates back to 2005 but is now available for the first time on Kindle, published I think by the author; a few typos and formatting glitches did no real harm. Some Roman Catholics might be pleased by its assumption or at least implication that the sacred relics of the saints hold actual, magical power; others might choose to find the perverted, corrupt priests that populate the book offensive. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this provocative and grimly amusing book to everyone else.
The Translation of Father Torturo, Brendan Connell, Kindle, 3417ll.