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A Scottish minister who doesn't believe in God meets the devil in this beguiling American debut
Gideon Mack is a good man and a minister who does not believe in God butafter a neardeadly fall into a raging riverhe claims to have met the Devil. Gideon is expelled from the church, mocked by the tabloids, shunned as a madman, and then he disappears. The case is considered closed until a publisher receives what appears to be Gideon's posthumous account of his experience and the unusual life that preceded it. The Testament of Gideon Mack is a riveting and brilliantly imagined novel that heralds the arrival of a true original to American shores.
When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: yet I was already, in so many ways, the man I would become. I think back on how cold I was, even then. It is hard to recall, now that I burn with this dry, feverish fire, but cold I certainly was. There was ice built around my heart, years of it. How could it have been otherwise? The manse at Ochtermill saw to that.
I have walked and run through this world pretending emotions rather than feeling them. Oh, I could feel pain, physical pain, but I had to imagine joy, sorrow, anger. As for love, I didn't know what it meant. But I learned early to keep myself well disguised. To the world at large I was just Gideon Mack, a dutiful wee boy growing in the shadow of his father and of the Kirk.
As that wee boy I was taught that, solitary though I might be, I was never alone. Always there was one who walked beside me. I could not see him, but he was there, constant at my side. I wanted to know him, to love and be loved by him, but he did not reveal himself. He frightened me. I had neither the courage to reject him nor the capacity to embrace him.
This is the hard lesson of my life: love is not in us from the beginning, like an instinct; love is no more original to human beings than sin. Like sin, it has to be learned.
Then I put away childish things, and for years I thought I saw with the clarity of reason. I did not believe in anything I could not see. I mocked at shadows and sprites. That constant companion was not there at all: I did not believe in him, and he did not reveal himself to me. Yet, through circumstances and through choice, I was to become his servant, a minister of religion. How ironic this is, and yet how natural, as if the path were laid out for me from birth, and though I wandered a little from it, distracted or deluded here and there, yet I was always bound to return to it again.
And all the while this fire was burning deep inside me. I kept it battened down, the door of the furnace tightly shut, because that seemed necessary in order to through life. I never savoured life for what it was: I only wanted to get to the next stage of it. I wish now I'd taken a little more time, but it is too late for such regrets. I was like the child in the cinema whose chief anticipation lies not in the film but in wondering what he will do after it is over; I was the reader who hurries through a 500page novel not to see what will happen but simply to get to the end. And now, despite everything, I am there, and for this I must thank that other companion, in whom also I did not believe, but who has shown me a way through the shadows and beyond the shadows.
I have not preached for weeks, yet I am full of texts. If I am a prophet then I have yet to be heard. If I am Jonah, then the fish has vomited me out but nobody believes where I have been: nobody except the one who saved me from the belly of hell. Who am I? I am Gideon Mack, timeserver, charlatan, hypocrite, God's groveling, apologist; the man who saw the Stone, the man that was drowned and that the waters gave back, the mad minister who met with the Devil and lived to tell the tale. And hence my third nonScriptural text, for what is religion if not a kind of madness, and what is madness without a touch of religion? And yet there is peace and sanctuary in religion too—it is the asylum to which all poor crazed sinners may come at last, the door which will always open to us if we can find the courage to knock.
Few suspected it, but all my life was a lie from the age of nine (when, through deceit, I almost succeeded in killing my father); all my words were spoken with the tongue of a serpent, and what love I gave or felt came from a dissembling heart. Then I saw the Stone, and nothing was the same again. This is my testimony. Read it and believe it, or believe it not. You may judge me a liar, a cheat, a madman, I do not care. I am beyond questions of probity or sanity now. I am at the gates of the realm of knowledge, and one day soon I will pass through them.
from The Testament of Gideon Mack