The Breath of Night by Michael Arditti - review by Patrick Skene Catling

Patrick Skene Catling

Missionary Position

The Breath of Night

By

Arcadia Books 387pp £11.99 order from our bookshop
 

Michael Arditti’s picturesque imagining of the Philippines under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos adds a plausibility to this philosophical thriller. In The Breath of Night, the ingeniously complex, finally astonishing plot concerns the ministry, radicalisation and mysterious disappearance in the Philippines of Father Julian Tremayne, son of an aristocratic Catholic family from County Durham, a missionary whose adoring parishioners nominate him for canonisation. To qualify for that honour, as his niece Isabel explains, it would have to be proved that he had led ‘a holy life of heroic virtue’, performed two or three miracles or suffered ‘martyrdom for the faith’. Whether he is worthy is revealed in a series of intimately confessional letters from the 1970s to his mother and father and by a Church investigation on the spot thirty years later. 

Isabel’s husband, a conservative businessman who is involved in a multinational conglomerate of Filipinos, Americans and Chinese and regards Father Julian as ‘something of a pinko’, nevertheless humours her by commissioning a favourite of hers, young Philip Seward, to help the Church finish the examination. Philip describes himself as a

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