Atheist theologian and ex-priest, Bernard, takes a leave from his college in the grey, industrial town of Rummidge, UK, to escort his unwilling father, Jack, to Hawaii at the request of his elderly aunt, Ursula, who is dying of cancer. Bernard's domineering sister, Tess, is strongly opposed. To save on costs, they join a charter tour.

On the day of arrival, Jack is hit by a car and confined to hospital. Bernard spends many days traveling between his dad's bedside and Ursula's in an inadequate nursing home. The near-but-far separation between the aged siblings gives Bernard time and opportunity to discover their past.

The exotic, touristic "paradise" on earth and an affair with Yolande, driver of the car that struck his father, awaken Bernard to the sensual pleasures of existence. Ursula, always portrayed as the selfish black sheep, had been sexually abused as a child by her oldest brother Sean--venerated as a hero by the family for his death in the war. A lad at the time, Jack knew of the abuse.

With credible evidence and an impressive lack of self-pity, Ursula explains to Bernard that the experience ruined her marriage and her life. She wants Jack's apology. With the help of his sister and his lover, the newly secular Bernard brings about a reconciliation to the greater peace of all involved, including himself.


The religious themes of sin, guilt, confession, absolution, and redemption play on a backdrop of age, illness, death, and loss of faith. The marital problems of Bernard's sister, Tess, and his lover, Yolande, move in counterpoint to the life stories of the older siblings. Few writers could handle these sober issues with the grace and satirical humour of Lodge.

The inconsistencies and inadequacies of commercialized American health facilities--the splendid and the drab--are keenly observed by his British eye, while the exotic promise of Hawaii (a sometimes tawdry paradise on earth) is contrasted with the foibles and poignant desires of the English tourists. Enjoyable, profound, and brilliant.



Place Published

Harmondsworth, UK



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