An Angel in Australia
"Sydney 1942 - the year of the fall of Singapore, the bombing of Darwin and the surprise attack on Sydney Harbour by Japanese midget submarines. Australia is surely doomed to fall to the Japanese...
"Through the eyes of a naive young priest we see into the hearts of a people who fear the end of life as they know it. In the confessional, Father Frank Darragh hears how his community is changing - how the very fear of invasion by the Japanese is leading people to challenge what the church teaches is right or wrong. Under the threat of death, people do things they would never dream of in peacetime. Especially vulnerable are those women whose husbands have been captured in Singapore or the Western desert. Facing the future alone and unprotected, they are at risk of succumbing to the charms of more subtle invaders, American servicemen.
"When one of Father Darragh's 'fallen' parishioners, the young working class wife of an Australian POW, is found brutally murdered, she takes on the character of a victim of war in the mind of the impressionable young priest. His obsession with her lost soul runs deeper than he will admit and leads Darragh on a dangerous journey of personal discovery - one that puts his own life at risk..."
Pentitents, kneeling in the confessional, can be divided into predictable categories. The tennis-playing young priests at White City on Mondays, drinking beer supplied, despite war rationing, by a Knight of the Southern Cross who owned a hotel at Edgecliff, often did so. They spoke only of generalised types of sin and sinner, being careful not to violate the strict seal of the sacrament of penance. So, there were, for instance, the self-congratulators, muttering minor sins; the shame-hot boy masturbators; the guilt-obsessed, so hungry for pardon that they would confess, if given a chance, many times a day.
Among priests, as among the laity, the confessional was a focus of humour, it was a focus of dread and hope. The curates sitting by the tennis courts all agreed that hearing the utterly predictable confessions was an ordeal, and boring. Young priests groaned thorugh their Saturday afternoons, leaving their radios, the staccato of horse races, the reports of Sheffield Shield or rugby league at the Sydney Cricket Ground, to do their personal penance in confesional boxes too hot in summers, too cold in winters. Then a quick meal and their Saturday evening stint in the box began, with all the banal confessions of disobedience, small theft, secret desire, shifty touches and self-soiling.
From the Doubleday hardcover edition, 2002.
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Last modified: August 24, 2003.