Preview copy from Netgalley
The pre-launch publicity describes the novel “My Father’s House” as a powerful literary thriller from a master of historical fiction. Joseph O’Connor has created an unforgettable novel of love, faith, and sacrifice, and what it means to be truly human in the most extreme circumstances.” I struggled with the literary thriller description. I find long literary passages detract from the thriller genre. Short sentences, compact chapters, and tight writing often work better in the thriller space.
I was looking forward to another historical thriller set in World War II based on true events. Strangely, many of the books I have reviewed this year fall into this category including Hitler’s Secret, A Feather in the Water, and Katastrophe. Although I enjoyed the book it failed to grip me for the reasons described above.
The novel vividly describes an Irish priest, Hugh O’Flaherty located in Vatican City who selflessly helps people escape the Nazis. SS officer Paul Hauptmann is in charge of the Nazis in Rome although the Vatican City is “protected” from Nazi occupation providing the Vatican remains neutral. Hauptmann is the worst of the Nazis, and rules with ruthless authority. He suspects O’Flaherty is involved in the Escape Line and takes every opportunity to harass him. O’Flaherty is constantly finding places for people to hide, raising funds, and organising escapes from the city. O’Flaherty is constantly walking a fine line. His supporters and fellow “resistance” workers meet clandestinely at choir practice, and plans are discussed, organised, and implemented at these meetings. Meanwhile, Hauptmann is terrorising the locals with horrible reprisals. Eventually, Hauptmann’s wife seeks out O’Flaherty and wishes to leave her husband.
The author uses various devices to narrate the story including interviews, reports, and the views of the characters involved. In the final part of the book, events after the war are relayed and loose ends are tied up. After the war, Hauptmann is in prison, and requests visits from O’Flaherty. After several strange visits, the priest agrees to Hauptmann’s conversion to the Catholic faith but refuses to hear his first confession.
Although the Pope was supposed to remain neutral, there were no reflections on the internal Vatican politics during the Nazi occupation of Rome. This would have been an interesting addition to the story. So My Father’s House is an interesting read but lacks thrills!
Publication date: 26 Jan 2023