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Book set in the Philippines (A Time Shift Thriller)

20th March 2014

The Breath of Night by Michael Arditti.

A book set in the Philippines that goes where not many contemporary British writers have ventured…

0957330456.01.ZTZZZZZZSet in the 1970s / 80s (the era of the Marcos dictatorship) and the current day, the book – in alternate chapters – follows the progression of Father Julian from priest sent out as a missionary from the UK to the Philippines and Philip, his would-have-been-nephew-in-law (had his niece not been killed Cheap Prom Dressesin a car crash…) who has been dispatched by the family to Manila to try and speed Julian’s passage to sainthood…there being several tales of miracles having been performed by the priest.

Julian’s chapters are written as letters home to his mother and father. The device works well. Philip’s are written as conventional narrative. Sometimes (just sometimes…) a little hard to remember exactly where one chapter closed off as you return to that half of the story fifteen pages later. But that is a niggle. Julian’s chapters tell the story of how the innocent and earnest priest from England was increasingly shocked at the feudalism and corruption in the Philippines Blue prom dresses– and at the acceptance by the Catholic Church of such practices. The senior members of the arch diocese were all prepared to turn a blind eye to the resulting extremes of poverty. Julian was perhaps a little like the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster who have both spoken out in recent weeks about the government’s welfare reforms and their impact on the poor. Not a popular position to espouse with those in authority… The Breath of Night goes right to the core of the relationship between church and state – and shies away from nothing.

Julian develops into a passive, and then active, sympathiser with communist guerillas. Eventually he is deemed to have been shot by them (no one quite knows why) and his body is later found.

Philip’s journey of discovery is just as dramatic. He is assisted in his quest by Max (an aging and effete business associate of Julian’s family) and by his driver, Dennis – go go dancer and generally ‘dodgy’ person. The trail leads to gangland, prostitutes, and the rubbish tips of Manila – even to prison. He receives false tips, and tip offs, as he searches for what really happened to Julian, what his secret underground life was all about, and whether – indeed – he did actually perform any miracles.

The story builds to what was, for me, an unexpected denouement. Unexpected, but in no way disappointing.

The Breath of Night is a very hard book to Sort Evening Dressesclassify. It is full of larger than life characters and events. It is at times actually very funny – but also very serious in its subject matter. The Philippines, both current day and in the 80s, is painted as a moral maze where everything is not quite as it seems to be – and corruption, and its consequences, are rife. It poses at least as many questions as it answers – and not much distinction is drawn between the Marcos years and the present day… only the actors are different. I doubt Arditti is very popular there…

It is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed – and have thought about quite a lot since I finished it.

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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