Oxford-educated David Anderton is out of place in his new parish. Though born in Scotland, he is never really accepted by the natives, although his sympathies and memories are grounded in the country his mother so loved. At fifty-six, Father Anderton arrives at Ayrshire parish with the best of intentions, hoping to lead a relevant life and garner his studentsí respect.
Welcomed by housekeeper Mrs. Poole, who happily brews the fatherís tea and chats him up as though they were bickering spouses, Anderton has little room for complaint, other than a pervasive lack of connection to himself or his surroundings. Dalgarnock is an insular community, naturally suspicious of papist ways, not to mention the scandals that have wracked the Church in the past few years.
For their part, Andertonís students are rowdy and fresh-mouthed, rude language the currency of their youth. It is not surprising that the students, especially Mark McNulty and Lisa Nolan, assume the priest is a pushover, testing his boundaries with their outrageous behavior. It is the manís great flaw that he fails to see the danger in his complicity with his charges, refusing to draw the lines of authority to keep them in check.
The teens approach Anderton almost seductively, as though it is a lark to test what behavior he will allow, constantly taunting and teasing. The self-confident, arrogant Mark takes special pleasure, calling the priest late at night to invite him on their aberrant adventures. Lisa is the perfect complement to her boyfriend; rude and irreverent, she is accustomed to garnering the attention of any group.
The acting out becomes habitual, the teens smoking joints and drinking with impunity on every outing. Anderton seems unable to resist the siren call of his studentsí youth, allowing himself to be drawn into a compromising situation that will have serious ramifications. Unfortunately, Anderton chooses the path of least resistance: ďTroubles like mine begin, as they end, in a thousand places.Ē
While the priestís behavior is indiscreet, it is basically harmless, if profoundly stupid. Clearly he is attracted to young McNulty but completely unaware of the particular malice that will come his way via the teens. Never in danger of classification as a pedophile, by his actions Anderton opens himself up to the accusations of others with no real defense.
A man who acts as though he is a passerby in his own life, Anderton is passive until his reputation is questioned, at which time his argument becomes one of particulars, confusing his point of view with the directives of the law. OíHaganís language is elegant and evocative, Scotland brilliantly described as well as the priestís memories of better days. Anderton portrays the very painful nature of personal failings confronted on the downside of an inauspicious life.