From our reviewers: June 20

03:48, Jun 22 2012

From The Southland Times book reviewers.

The Good Shepherd – The Life of Bishop Len Boyle
By Claire Ramsay (RRP $40)

Reviewed by Patricia Veltkamp Smith

The launch of The Good Shepherd, Dunedin writer Claire Ramsay's take on the life of Southland-born Bishop Len Boyle, was the highlight of the John Boyle family 150-year reunion in Invercargill last month.

In a series of chats over a period of six years the author cleverly captures the essence, a thoughtful quiet good humour in the lad born 80 years ago, the sixth son of Nightcaps publicans Catherine and Frank Boyle.

Ramsay lets Bishop Len's voice take the story along from a Catholic childhood in Nightcaps, teenage years at boarding school in Oamaru, to the young man who played rugby, sheared sheep, farmed, followed the horses and went to the works.


All this before recognising a call from God to give his life to the Catholic priesthood.

It meant going back to school to learn Latin, then six years at the Holy Cross seminary in Mosgiel, a life directed by others, leading to his ordination with the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

There's a truthfulness permeating the story.

It is not Pi and I – other voices come in and the insight into other lives is marvellous, from his mother to Pope John Paul II whose visit to Christchurch in the late 1980s he helped organise and host.

Ramsay is not a Catholic so she asks questions Catholics might not, assuming they know the answer. She finds out what a bishop does with his days and nights, where he holidays and with whom, how much money he must direct to the work of his diocese, Dunedin, Otago-Southland, and what priorities there are and what direction he must have for the clergy in his care and what he might say in regular visits to the Vatican.

He is gentle talking of others and of himself, slightly self deprecating. He shows respect for his predecessor, the late Bishop Kavanagh, recalling his caution when answering a letter.

Bishop Len said he would have been tempted to give a Yes Minister-type reply to a wacky idea. But Bishop Kavanagh, initiating his successor into the job said no, think first how the writer felt when she promoted the idea.

There are loads of anecdotes about marriage, money and family and Ramsay has found room for them all on different coloured pages with different print, interspersed with loads of photographs.

Semi-retired now, Bishop Len remains active here and beyond his diocese, relieving others where necessary, taking retreats – filling gaps, as he puts it.

His humour and energy are undimmed, his quiet wit warm.

With its soft cover format this is a lovely book, about a lovely guy – a Southlander to boot.

By Anita Shreve (Little, Brown, RRP $40)

Reviewed by Natasha Holland

First read, not overly fussed. Second read a much better experience and I'm not too sure why.

Writing a plot that takes the now and rolls back into the past doesn't always go smoothly, but Rescue manages to do this well.

Webster and Sheila meet, get pregnant and marry.

Everything then unravels as Sheila's drinking overtakes the family and Webster sends her away from him and their young daughter Rowan.

The story really picks up pace when Rowan, as a teenager, starts to experiment with alcohol and Webster recalls the early days with his wife.

What slows the tempo is the interspaced work moments of Webster, who is a paramedic.

It is Webster's job that attracted Sheila to him in the first place, and at the end of the book she admits a part of him she loved was that he could rescue her.

Perhaps the theory was if he could rescue people during the day then he could rescue his family.

An afternoon filler read.