The Testament of Gideon Mack

The Testament of Gideon Mack

3.5 2
by James Robertson
     
 

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A critical success on both sides of the Atlantic, this darkly imaginative novel from Scottish author James Robertson takes a tantalizing trip into the spiritual by way of a haunting paranormal mystery. When Reverend Gideon Mack, a good minister despite his atheism, tumbles into a deep ravine called the Black Jaws, he is presumed dead. Three days later, however, he…  See more details below

Overview

A critical success on both sides of the Atlantic, this darkly imaginative novel from Scottish author James Robertson takes a tantalizing trip into the spiritual by way of a haunting paranormal mystery. When Reverend Gideon Mack, a good minister despite his atheism, tumbles into a deep ravine called the Black Jaws, he is presumed dead. Three days later, however, he emerges bruised but alive-and insistent that his rescuer was Satan himself. Against the background of an incredulous world, Mack's disturbing odyssey and the tortuous life that led to it create a mesmerizing meditation on faith, mortality, and the power of the unknown.

Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
There's devilry for sure in a story this disquieting. You won't find Robertson blessing the devout or the atheists. But before Gideon departs this world, his testament will affirm your faith in the power of fiction.
— The Washington Post
The Washington Post
Provocative . . . [Gideon's] testament will affirm your faith in the power of fiction.
Los Angeles Times
Haunting, memorable, and completely compelling.
San Francisco Chronicle
Uncommonly thought-provoking and serious-minded . . . Gideon Mack's story raises disquieting questions most modern fiction prefers to ignore.
Publishers Weekly

Robertson offers in his absorbing American debut (two novels have been published in the U.K.) the cleverly framed autobiography of a Scottish minister who confronts the devil. A brief foreword claims the book is an autobiography penned by Gideon Mack, a Church of Scotland minister who, after allegedly encountering the devil, becomes a pariah and madman before disappearing. Raised by a harsh minister father, Gideon abandons faith at an early age, but later discovers it's possible to "be a Christian without involving Christ very much" and secures the pulpit at a small coastal church where he proves to be a gifted preacher. After his wife dies in a traffic accident, Gideon consummates a long-held obsession with old friend Elsie, whose husband, John, is also a longtime friend. A conflicted Gideon, while walking with another minister, falls into a gorge and is presumed dead. But he appears downstream, only slightly injured, three days later. His survival is miraculous, but his account of what happened is scandalous: he was saved by the devil. Gideon's struggle to find meaning in his experience leads to his undoing. Gideon's sly unreliability is cloaked by Robertson's mastery of language and command of the elements of fiction; the combination is addictive and captivating. (Apr.)

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Library Journal

Like most of his fictional predecessors in the pastorate, Gideon Mack struggles mightily to reconcile faith and doubt. Although well liked in his little Scottish village, Gideon, himself the son of a minister, gravitates increasingly toward atheism. One day, while walking in the woods, he falls into what seems a bottomless chasm and is given up for dead. He returns three days later remembering little of this incident except his conversations with the Devil. As his fellow villagers mock him, he disappears. This "testament" of his life, discovered by a book scout searching for other treasures, provides a memoir of Mack's growing up in a repressive household, the love of his mother, his failed marriage, and his wife's sudden death in an auto accident. It also records his discovery of a mysterious black stone in the woods that animates his own questions about the nature of the supernatural. Although Robertson's religious symbolism is too precious by far (three days in the wilderness, a talk with the Devil), his superbly fashioned characters give us a reason to care enough about Gideon to make his story interesting. Robertson's attention to detail creates a cannily gloomy atmosphere of the Scottish woods. Recommended for most libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/06.]
—Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

Kirkus Reviews
An award-winning Scottish author makes his American debut with the story of a faithless minister who befriends the Devil. Gideon Mack does not believe in God. He gave that up as a boy, when he discovered that his schoolmates watched Batman on Sunday without suffering divine retribution, and when his own schoolyard blasphemies went unpunished. It comes as something of a surprise, then, when he decides to follow his father into the Church of Scotland. It's even more surprising when this minister who doesn't believe in God meets the Devil. This novel is Gideon's life-story, from his gloomy childhood to the spiritual awakening-and rather shocking behavior-that follow his sojourn with Satan. The Devil does not restore Gideon's faith in God-Satan himself has neither seen nor heard from his opposite number in quite some time-but he does tantalize Gideon with glimpses of supernatural possibility. He doesn't offer Gideon salvation, but adventure. The Devil is moody and mercurial and his promises are suspiciously vague, but he is an altogether more appealing figure than the Jesus who haunted Gideon's childhood as a sort of ghostly busybody. And, of course, the Devil has made himself present and real in Gideon's life in a way that Jesus never did. There's nothing radical in Robertson's theology. The suggestion that God is dead-or, at the very least, retired-has been made before, and the Devil has been a fascinating and even sympathetic character at least since Paradise Lost. It's true that this Devil is refreshingly free of romance, but Robertson's real innovation is Gideon: He's a thoroughly compelling and honestly complex character, someone who's utterly candid about his vocational fraudulence butonly fitfully aware of how dishonesty and fear rule the other aspects of his life, particularly his marriage and friendships. It is both fitting and slightly chilling that when he finally finds true companionship, it's with the Prince of Lies. A rich, rewarding character study in which spiritual speculation is grounded in an earthy and entertaining realism.
From the Publisher
"Provocative . . . [Gideon's] testament will affirm your faith in the power of fiction."
-The Washington Post

"Haunting, memorable, and completely compelling."
-Los Angeles Times

"Uncommonly thought-provoking and serious-minded . . . Gideon Mack's story raises disquieting questions most modern fiction prefers to ignore."
-San Francisco Chronicle

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101650486
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/26/2008
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
264,793
File size:
547 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: yet I wasalready, in so many ways, the man I would become. I think back on how cold Iwas, even then. It is hard to recall, now that I burn with this dry, feverishfire, but cold I certainly was. There was ice built around my heart, years ofit. How could it have been otherwise? The manse at Ochtermill saw to that.

I have walked and run through this world pretendingemotions rather than feeling them. Oh, I could feel pain, physical pain, but Ihad to imagine joy, sorrow, anger. As for love, I didn't know what it meant.But I learned early to keep myself well disguised. To the world at large I wasjust Gideon Mack, a dutiful wee boy growing in the shadow of his father and ofthe Kirk.

As that wee boy I was taught that, solitarythough I might be, I was never alone. Always there was one who walked besideme. I could not see him, but he was there, constant at my side. I wanted toknow him, to love and be loved by him, but he did not reveal himself. Hefrightened me. I had neither the courage to reject him nor the capacity toembrace him.

This is the hard lesson of my life: love is notin us from the beginning, like an instinct; love is no more original to humanbeings than sin. Like sin, it has to be learned.

Then I put away childish things, and for years Ithought I saw with the clarity of reason. I did not believe in anything I couldnot see. I mocked at shadows and sprites. That constant companion was not thereat all: I did not believe in him, and he did not reveal himself to me. Yet,through circumstances and through choice, I was to become his servant, aminister of religion. How ironic this is, and yet how natural, as if the pathwere laid out for me from birth, and though I wandered a little from it,distracted or deluded here and there, yet I was always bound to return to itagain.

And all the while this fire was burning deepinside me. I kept it battened down, the door of the furnace tightly shut,because that seemed necessary in order to through life. I never savoured lifefor what it was: I only wanted to get to the next stage of it. I wish now I'dtaken a little more time, but it is too late for such regrets. I was like thechild in the cinema whose chief anticipation lies not in the film but inwondering what he will do after it is over; I was the reader who hurriesthrough a 500–page novel not to see what will happen but simply to get to theend. And now, despite everything, I am there, and for this I must thank thatother companion, in whom also I did not believe, but who has shown me a waythrough the shadows and beyond the shadows.

I have not preached for weeks, yet I am full oftexts. If I am a prophet then I have yet to be heard. If I am Jonah, then thefish has vomited me out but nobody believes where I have been: nobody exceptthe one who saved me from the belly of hell. Who am I? I am Gideon Mack,time–server, charlatan, hypocrite, God's groveling, apologist; the man who sawthe Stone, the man that was drowned and that the waters gave back, the madminister who met with the Devil and lived to tell the tale. And hence my thirdnon–Scriptural text, for what is religion if not a kind of madness, and what ismadness without a touch of religion? And yet there is peace and sanctuary inreligion too—it is the asylum to which all poor crazed sinners may comeat last, the door which will always open to us if we can find the courage toknock.

Few suspected it, but all my life was a lie fromthe age of nine (when, through deceit, I almost succeeded in killing myfather); all my words were spoken with the tongue of a serpent, and what love Igave or felt came from a dissembling heart. Then I saw the Stone, and nothingwas the same again. This is my testimony. Read it and believe it, or believe itnot. You may judge me a liar, a cheat, a madman, I do not care. I am beyondquestions of probity or sanity now. I am at the gates of the realm ofknowledge, and one day soon I will pass through them.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Provocative . . . [Gideon's] testament will affirm your faith in the power of fiction."
-The Washington Post

"Haunting, memorable, and completely compelling."
-Los Angeles Times

"Uncommonly thought-provoking and serious-minded . . . Gideon Mack's story raises disquieting questions most modern fiction prefers to ignore."
-San Francisco Chronicle

Meet the Author

James Robertson is the author of two previous novels published in the U.K., The Fanatic and Joseph Knight. The latter was awarded the two major Scottish literary awards-the Saltire Book of the Year and the Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year.

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The Testament of Gideon Mack 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Robertson spins a wonderful tale while exploring faith, religion, truth, fantasy, reality and more. He captures and debates subjects that every human being struggles to comprehend while taking the reader on a fascinating journey with Gideon Mack, a dutiful yet atheist Scottish minister. Robertson is clearly a gifted and brilliant writer. In telling this story, he masterfully debates the many sides of organized religion, mental health, faith, marriage, happiness, the meaning of life and more. His devilish touch belies his Scottish roots and makes this book even more fun. I'm looking forward to more masterpieces from this talented writer.