Alan Isler Clerical Errors: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780743210614

Clerical Errors: A Novel

3.44 avg rating
( 36 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780743210614: Clerical Errors: A Novel
View all copies of this ISBN edition:
 
 

Aside from his blatant lack of piety -- and the fact that he's Jewish -- Father Edmond Music could have been a model priest. Now, entrenched at an English estate with a vast library, he would rather pursue a decades-old liaison with his housekeeper than crack down on his assistant's dial-a-confession phone ministry, or, more important, investigate the whereabouts of a rare Shakespeare text gone missing on his watch.
Then, out of nowhere, penance comes due. His car is found totaled (possibly by Vatican hit men), his annoying archrival of the cloth is looking to nail him as a thief, and the once-passionate housekeeper is lapsing into religious fervor. With his forty-year idyll falling apart, Edmond can no longer ignore the danger of the present, or the echoes of his buried past.
National Jewish Book Award-winning author Alan Isler delivers a hilarious and touching literary homily, confirming his unique gift for mingling comedy and tragedy in this deeply moving exploration of faith, love, and identity.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Alan Isler was born in London in 1934. He taught English literature in New York City for twenty-five years. His first novel, The Prince of West End Avenue, won the 1994 National Jewish Book Award and was one of five fiction finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of Kraven Images and The Bacon Fancier: Four Tales. He died in 2010.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Part One

Sipping a Calvados in a bar in the rue de Malengin and reading an English newspaper left on the seat by its previous occupant, I discovered to my surprise that I had just died. It appeared that I had driven my car, a modest Morris Minor of a certain age, into the famous Stuart Oak of the Beale estate, the oak so named because planted to commemorate the death of the unfortunate James II. The Stuart Oak had sustained little damage; the Morris Minor was now a twisted, tortured tangle of metal, from which had been extracted a pulped human body supposed to be mine. Our local constable, Timothy "Tubby" Whiting, had identified the car and its owner. Tubby has a palate for local ale and bitter than which there is surely none more refined. He is, moreover, as am I, a Catholic, he rather more persuasively than I. But he is no Sherlock Holmes, or, for that matter, Father Brown.

First I phoned Maude back at the Hall. She, foolish soul, supposed, or pretended to suppose, I was phoning from the Other Side.

"God be praised! Deo gratias! Oh, sweet Jesus! Oh! Oh! Oh!"

"Maude, my love, I'm all right."

"All right, is it? Of course you're all right, there with the Holy Virgin and the blessed angels. Is that the heavenly choir I hear?"

From the jukebox at the back of the bar the late Edith Piaf sang "Milord."

"I mean that I'm not dead."

"Not dead, is it? Of course you're not dead! Everlasting life, that's what He promised us, that's why He bled upon the Cross. Oh, I must tell Father Bastien immediately. Oh, Edmond, I miss you so. Be patient, my love. I'll be with you as soon as I'm allowed." And she hung up.

The silly old woman! It's extraordinary how any sort of excitement brings back the brogue she otherwise abandoned with her youth. She was jesting, surely. Her relief must have found its outlet in hysteria. And, no doubt, mother's ruin has played its part, too. Yes, gin has long been her favorite tipple, and lots of it -- but in a pinch she will make do with whatever's on offer. She likes to pretend that I am the one who has "a little drinking problem"; as for her, why, she drinks merely to be sociable or because she finds herself without company, or because she feels cheerful or because she is bored, or because she is worried or because she's not. We don't talk about it.

Ah, but to remember what she was like when first I knew her, Maude Moriarty, the keeper of my house and my flesh, lo these many years! Ah, the swish of her hips, the rustle of her skirts, the slender shape of her arched above me! And yet to see and hear what she has become as Time's wingèd chariot rattles behind us, nearer and nearer! Gone -- or, at any rate, usually hidden nowadays -- are the wit and the sharp intelligence. She has played an Irish washerwoman for so long, she has at last become one. Too much television, perhaps.

O she had not these ways

When all the wild summer was in her gaze.

Next I phoned Tubby, assuring him that I was as good as on my way home. His shock at hearing my voice was somewhat mitigated by his acceptance of the glad tidings: I was still alive. "But who was it, then, Father," he said almost accusingly, "we squeezed and scraped out of the car? He must've been doing a hundred down the drive." The drive is curved and dangerously steep as it plunges toward the Stuart Oak.

"D'you suppose it was poor Trevor? As I remember, I'd asked him to pick up the car over the weekend. The hand brake had given out, and the foot brake was sluggish." Trevor Stuffins was our local odd-job man, a fellow of my own age and girth.

"Hmmm," said Tubby noncommittally.

"We must pray for his soul."

"He was a Protestant, Father."

"All the more reason."

"If it was Trevor." Tubby was capable of learning from his mistakes.

"Do me a favor, Tubby, go and have a word with Maude. Explain to her I'm still alive -- alive, that is, in the this-worldly sense. Do it gently."

Before leaving the rue de Malengin, I ordered another Calvados and sipped it slowly. My trip to Paris had been a failure, but I felt somehow like one recalled to life.

Could it be that Castignac was right? He had telephoned me a month before, getting to a phone who-knew-how, and warned that Vatican assassins were after me. "Watch out, Edmond, pay attention! They want you dead!" This was followed by a mad cackle. "They will stop at nothing! Nothing!" And then the line went suddenly silent.

But poor Castignac is a lunatic. Why should I have paid attention?

Well, perhaps because of the historical record. Parva, as we say, componere magnis, to compare small things with big, the popes themselves have not been safe from their coreligionists, even as their coreligionists have not been safe from the popes. In the tenth century fully one in three popes died in (nudge-nudge) "suspicious circumstances." Pope Stephen VI was deposed and strangled in prison. And as for murderous corruption, poisonous intrigue, and the savage pursuit of power, why, everyone knows that the popes of the High Renaissance -- the Borgias and their like -- wrote the book, created the template. To step a little closer to our own time, what of John Paul I, who died in 1978 after only thirty-four days on the throne, eh? I point only to the fact, nothing more. Dear me, no. But if so magnificent a beast as a lion may be cruelly slain in his lair, what hope for compassion has a mere flea?

Still, a sense of proportion is a wonderful thing. I cannot truly believe that what I might call the upper hierarchy is after my blood, much as they would like to see me out of a job. No, but rather lower down, though. Father Fred Twombly, say, chairman of the Department of English at Holyrood College, Joliet, Illinois, my undoubted enemy since we were graduate students together in Paris, the wretch who wants my job, the fact that I have it and that he does not gnawing at his vitals like a poisonous mineral. He, I think, if all else failed him, could interfere with the brakes of my car.

But all else has not yet failed him. He thinks he has me by the hip, and it may be that he has. I shall tell you about him anon, and about his latest letter to me, the occasion of my trip to Paris.

Perhaps I should pray.

Perhaps not.

At what moment, I wonder, did I lose my faith? It is a question that has no answer, a semantic dilemma. Have you stopped beating your wife? To lose something -- virginity, say, or a gold watch -- one must first have possessed it. But I put it on, this faith, because it was offered me, it suited me, it was a habit, in both senses of the word. It was at once an ecclesiastical vestment, an outward sign of belief, and a way of life to which I became comfortably -- well, perhaps that word needs modification, but, for the moment, let it stand -- comfortably accustomed.

Which brings the young Castignac's joke to mind. He rose to the exalted rank of papal nuncio, traveled the world -- Guatemala, Lebanon, Hawaii, wherever the Holy See had need of him -- a spy, after his fashion, yes, one of God's spies, gazing into the mystery of things. But he also learned at firsthand the intricacies of the Vatican's inner workings, what the Protestant Milton calls its secret conclaves. And where is he now? As I have said, stark staring mad, terminally bonkers, or so designated, and in the merciful hands of the Sisters of the Five Wounds, a hospice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Well, he always liked America, did Castignac.

But why do I mention him? Ah, yes, the joke. We were seminarians then, you see, the old Adam not quite squeezed out of us. Not out of Castignac, in particular. What a rogue he was! He possessed the blue-black, curly hair, black eyes, and olive skin of the true Corsican, a young Napoleon, but well endowed, hugely endowed. In the dormitory, he slapped away at it. "Down, wicked fellow, down!" and thus revealed himself, grandly tumescent, to our secret envy. "Look," he said one early morning, pointing through the window grille to the courtyard, where an ancient van idled and out of which stepped a young woman. She opened the van's back door and took out a basket. "That's Véronique," he said. "She's the laundress. Every fortnight, she picks up the monks' dirty habits." He looked at us slyly, and then he roared with laughter. And so we understood we had been told a joke.

But to get back to the question of faith. In those early days, I gloried in the words of Tertullian. Certum est quia absurdum est. Those words had -- to use the modern idiom -- a certain in-your-face quality that appealed to the adolescent that I was. To believe in something because it is absurd! Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. But I had in any case reasons enough to be grateful to them, to the Church, I mean. (Notice that "them." What an astonishing irruption after all these years!) I was taken in, given shelter, occasionally shown kindness. Those were terrifying times, quite terrifying. The saintly fathers saved my life, and -- so they believed -- my immortal soul.

Still, I had an early taste for it, I must admit, the incense, the chanting, one's breath during Mass of a winter's morning rising like mist to the cathedral's vault. I enjoyed, not piety, but the spectacle of piety and, to the burgeoning visionary imagination, myself as pious. I could see myself on my knees, dragging myself over the cruel stones, to throw my broken body, bloodied, prostrate before the Cross. Of course, I never did any such thing. Self-flagellation, outside of the visionary imagination, was not my style. Perhaps I felt a little of what moved Edward Gibbon (who was to show with devastating irony in his Decline and Fall the utter nonsense and demonstrable cruelty of Christianity) to embrace Roman Catholicism in his impressionable youth:

The marvellous tales that are so boldly attested by the Basils and Chrysostoms, the Austins and Jeromes, compelled me to embrace the superior merits of celibacy, the institutions of the monastic life, the use of the sign of the Cross, of holy oil, and even of images, the invocation of saints, the worship of relics, the rudiments of purgatory in prayers for the dead, and the tremendous mystery of the sacrifice and the body and blood of Christ, which insensibly swelled into the prodigy of Transubstantiation.

Thus Gibbon in his Autobiography, writing of the follies of his youth. Well, I was not (and am not) a Gibbon, but it is clear enough to me now that what I possessed as a youth was a painterly inner eye, if not a painter's ability. I saw, as it were, a Catholicism as it might exist in a Platonic realm of Ideas, and to that I responded, a victory of frosty sensuality over pulsating reason.

But to return to Tertullian, to know, intellectually, that the whole rigamarole was absurdum and therefore to believe...well, really. Suppose I had put it to the faithful as follows: "Know that the world and all that inhabits it -- all of you, my dear little brothers and sisters, and even I myself -- we are actually resident in the mind of a monstrous carp swimming languidly in the warm waters of Eternity. Certum est quia absurdum est." You see what I mean. It is not for nothing that the phrase "hocus-pocus" derives from the words of consecration in the Mass, "Hoc est enim corpus meum," and in turn gives birth to the word "hoax."

And yet here I am in black suit and dog collar, and, of course, my color-coordinated black-and-white trainers (my bunions, you see), back home from Paris, mission unaccomplished, awaiting a courtesy call from the German ambassador. The pious, thankfully few in number in my neck of the woods, bow and scrape before me -- or would, perhaps, if I spent more time among them. Bastien appeared at my side. "Our Côte de Gherlaine is quite used up, Father, but we have an untroubled Coeur de Languedoc, 1963, a gift of Colonel Fulke-Greville, grateful for your kindness on his recent visit. May I tempt you?" "Retro me, Satana," I said sternly. But then I saw his crestfallen face: "But of course, my dear Bastien. What luck! A Coeur de Languedoc! The colonel is too kind. You will not only convey to him my gratitude, noting that nothing we were able to do for him could match his generosity, but you will pour a glass of it for yourself."

It is so easy to be gracious.

Bastien, the donkey, has been with me, appropriately, for donkey's years. He has grown old in my service, my factotum. How would I get on without him? Slippered indoors and out, curved like a question mark, wisps of white hair attached untidily to an almost bald pate, he stands in his stained cassock, knees bent and splayed, bouncing gently as if he were an exhausted spring. He is another to whom Time has not been kind. Odd he has long been, for reasons I shall no doubt divulge, but he also possesses a kind of peasant shrewdness and a honed intelligence that show themselves when least expected. That I keep him on in so privileged a position rather than arrange for his retirement is regarded as a unique sign of my inviolable charity. But I have known him since our schooldays. We were orphans together. He would be lost without me -- I say it in all modesty -- and I suspect that I would be lost without him.

His joy at my recent resurrection was unfeigned. He spared not a tear for poor Trevor -- yes, Trevor it was who had died in my place -- or for Trevor's distraught sister-in-law from Wigan, now conferring with her solicitors, for, as Tubby told me lugubriously, using language appropriate to a sexually distraught maiden aunt, it was likely that the brakes, hand and foot, "had been interfered with." I, he was happy to report, was "not in the frame." But somebody had been out to get Trevor. I did not tell Tubby that I was myself a likelier target.

Bastien placed two glasses on the table beside me. I was in my study, the Music Room, on my cushioned chair, my poor feet on a yielding stool. He retired momentarily but returned with the bottle of Coeur de Languedoc. Around his neck, where his Cross should be, hung a corkscrew on a string. Bouncing gently, he held the bottle before my eyes, label toward me; and, as if in the hands of a drunken sommelier, the bottle bounced with him. I could not have read it if I would.

"That's it," I said, "the very thing. No cork-sniffing, Bastien, no preliminaries. Let's to it."

I held the filled glass up to the light. "Stand off a little," I said, waving with my free hand. He has in these his last years acquired an unpleasant smell, has Father Bastien, not strong, to be sure, not unwholesome, but rather like the aroma of turned-over compost that, on a damp day, reaches one from a distance. "I want to see the famous Coeur de Languedoc ruby." What I saw, in fact, were his greasy finger smudges on the glass. But no matter. Bastien was now at a safe distance, bouncing after his fashion, his wine in danger of slopping over the glass's rim. He would not, honest fellow, drink before his master. I sipped. "Aah!" I smacked my lips. I sipped again. This was his signal to drink.

Why, you may wonder, do I keep him on? In part, as I have said, because his continuing presence here is a visible earnest of my charitable disposition. All to the good, that, all to the good. Besides, there is no more discreet man than he. Pincers to his tongue would not draw from him my secrets. And oh, I have a secret or two. In some, we are complicit, he and I.

"A short nap, I think, before the arrival of the German ambassador. We'll offer him one of our sherries, good Bastien." I wink at him. "He need not know we have a Coeur de Languedoc, 1963."

"Sale boche!" he gr...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780224061247: Clerical Errors

Featured Edition

ISBN 10:  0224061240 ISBN 13:  9780224061247
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, 2001
Hardcover

9780743210607: Clerical Errors: A Novel

Scribner, 2001
Hardcover

9780099285854: Clerical Errors

Vintage, 2002
Softcover

Top Search Results from the AbeBooks Marketplace

1.

Alan Isler
Published by Simon and Schuster
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
INDOO
(Avenel, NJ, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Simon and Schuster. Condition: New. Brand New. Seller Inventory # 0743210611

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 10.44
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.60
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

2.

Alan Isler
Published by Simon and Schuster (2002)
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Quantity Available: > 20
Print on Demand
Seller:
Pbshop
(Wood Dale, IL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Simon and Schuster, 2002. PAP. Condition: New. New Book. Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. THIS BOOK IS PRINTED ON DEMAND. Established seller since 2000. Seller Inventory # IQ-9780743210614

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 11.02
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

3.

Isler, Alan
Published by Touchstone (2018)
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Paperback Quantity Available: > 20
Print on Demand
Seller:
Murray Media
(North Miami Beach, FL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Touchstone, 2018. Paperback. Condition: New. Never used! This item is printed on demand. Seller Inventory # 0743210611

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 16.77
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

4.

Alan Isler
Published by Touchstone (2002)
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Ergodebooks
(RICHMOND, TX, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Touchstone, 2002. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Seller Inventory # DADAX0743210611

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 13.87
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

5.

Alan Isler
Published by SIMON SCHUSTER, United States (2002)
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Paperback Quantity Available: 10
Print on Demand
Seller:
Book Depository International
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2002. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. Aside from his blatant lack of piety -- and the fact that he s Jewish -- Father Edmond Music could have been a model priest. Now, entrenched at an English estate with a vast library, he would rather pursue a decades-old liaison with his housekeeper than crack down on his assistant s dial-a-confession phone ministry, or, more important, investigate the whereabouts of a rare Shakespeare text gone missing on his watch. Then, out of nowhere, penance comes due. His car is found totaled (possibly by Vatican hit men), his annoying archrival of the cloth is looking to nail him as a thief, and the once-passionate housekeeper is lapsing into religious fervor. With his forty-year idyll falling apart, Edmond can no longer ignore the danger of the present, or the echoes of his buried past. National Jewish Book Award-winning author Alan Isler delivers a hilarious and touching literary homily, confirming his unique gift for mingling comedy and tragedy in this deeply moving exploration of faith, love, and identity. Seller Inventory # AAV9780743210614

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 18.32
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

6.

Alan Isler
Published by SIMON SCHUSTER, United States (2002)
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Paperback Quantity Available: 10
Print on Demand
Seller:
The Book Depository
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2002. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.Aside from his blatant lack of piety -- and the fact that he s Jewish -- Father Edmond Music could have been a model priest. Now, entrenched at an English estate with a vast library, he would rather pursue a decades-old liaison with his housekeeper than crack down on his assistant s dial-a-confession phone ministry, or, more important, investigate the whereabouts of a rare Shakespeare text gone missing on his watch. Then, out of nowhere, penance comes due. His car is found totaled (possibly by Vatican hit men), his annoying archrival of the cloth is looking to nail him as a thief, and the once-passionate housekeeper is lapsing into religious fervor. With his forty-year idyll falling apart, Edmond can no longer ignore the danger of the present, or the echoes of his buried past. National Jewish Book Award-winning author Alan Isler delivers a hilarious and touching literary homily, confirming his unique gift for mingling comedy and tragedy in this deeply moving exploration of faith, love, and identity. Seller Inventory # AAV9780743210614

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 18.72
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

7.

Alan Isler
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Quantity Available: 5
Seller:
ReadWhiz
(Portland, OR, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Condition: New. Seller Inventory # ria9780743210614_ing

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 19.00
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

8.

Alan Isler
Published by Touchstone Books
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Paperback Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
BuySomeBooks
(Las Vegas, NV, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Touchstone Books. Paperback. Condition: New. 288 pages. Dimensions: 8.0in. x 5.3in. x 0.7in.Aside from his blatant lack of piety -- and the fact that hes Jewish -- Father Edmond Music could have been a model priest. Now, entrenched at an English estate with a vast library, he would rather pursue a decades-old liaison with his housekeeper than crack down on his assistants dial-a-confession phone ministry, or, more important, investigate the whereabouts of a rare Shakespeare text gone missing on his watch. Then, out of nowhere, penance comes due. His car is found totaled (possibly by Vatican hit men), his annoying archrival of the cloth is looking to nail him as a thief, and the once-passionate housekeeper is lapsing into religious fervor. With his forty-year idyll falling apart, Edmond can no longer ignore the danger of the present, or the echoes of his buried past. National Jewish Book Award-winning author Alan Isler delivers a hilarious and touching literary homily, confirming his unique gift for mingling comedy and tragedy in this deeply moving exploration of faith, love, and identity. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Seller Inventory # 9780743210614

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 21.43
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

9.

Alan Isler
Published by Touchstone (2002)
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Softcover Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Irish Booksellers
(Portland, ME, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Touchstone, 2002. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0743210611

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 21.98
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

10.

Isler, Alan
Published by Touchstone (2016)
ISBN 10: 0743210611 ISBN 13: 9780743210614
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Print on Demand
Seller:
Ria Christie Collections
(Uxbridge, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Touchstone, 2016. Paperback. Condition: New. PRINT ON DEMAND Book; New; Publication Year 2016; Not Signed; Fast Shipping from the UK. No. book. Seller Inventory # ria9780743210614_lsuk

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 18.11
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 5.12
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

There are more copies of this book

View all search results for this book