"I Have Kissed Your Lips" by Gerard Windsor. [review]
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Gerard Windsor’s new novel presents intricate layers of mystery for the reader to ponder and perhaps solve, and one of the most teasing of the mysteries is what the novel is, at its heart, concerned with. Windsor provides a string of red herrings while he circles around the dark core of his theme. In 1971, Michael English is a young Catholic priest, only child of an elderly couple, haunted by memories of his strangely distant mother. Moving backwards and forwards across four decades or more of Michael’s life, the narrative involves dreams, stories and imagined conversations. Mothers are clearly significant, but at first the theme seems to centre on the difficulties of the clerical vow of chastity. A story of an old priest’s lapse, told to Michael by a colleague in 1980, ‘after the fateful years of his life,’ leaves him feeling ‘with a cold fear’ that he ‘could go just as decisively’, causing ‘eyes wide with distaste or revulsion or horror’ to be turned on him, however involuntary his action might be. What soon becomes clear, though, is that by this time Michael has left the priesthood, and it is a more generalised fear of sexual indiscretion which plagues him. A second theme is marriage. Michael meets a parishioner, Esme, an older married woman, who seduces him. Within a year he is no longer a priest, Esme’s husband is dead, and they are married. This is not a judgmental novel, and the narrative is deeply subjective. Through descriptions of incest, adultery, paedophilia, male sexuality, motherhood and child mortality, there is much sharp evocation of feelings and little blame for any but the worst abuses of power. I Have Kissed Your Lips is not the novel of social comment that it first appears to be. It is deeply personal, enigmatic, strongly imagined and written with direct, poetic force.