Good Offices by Evelio Rosero

Good Offices by Evelio Rosero

Tancredo, a young hunchback, observes and participates in the rites at the Catholic church where he lives under the care of Father Almida. Also in residence are the sexton Celeste Machado, his goddaughter Sabina Cruz, and three widows known collectively as the Lilias, who do the cooking and cleaning and provide charity meals for the local poor and needy. One Thursday, Father Almida and the sexton must rush off to meet the parish’s principal benefactor, Don Justiniano. It will be the first time in forty years Father Almida has not said mass. Eventually they find a replacement: Father Matamoros, a drunkard with a beautiful voice whose sung mass is spellbinding to all. The Lilias prepare a sumptuous meal for Father Matamoros, who persuades them to drink with him. Over the course of the long night the women and Tancredo lose their inhibitions and confess their sins and stories to this strange priest, and in the process re- veal lives crippled by hypocrisy.

One thing became clear to me early on – while reading Good Offices by Evelio Rosero – was its fluidity. Reading such a beautiful and energetic translation – by Anne McLean and Anna Milsom – I lost myself in its simplicity and free flowing narrative. I felt as if Rosero was conducting a small orchestra, a solo violin performance, or perhaps I was sitting at the theatre where one solitary voice spoke to me, just like an actor on stage reciting a monologue. Whatever the performance, be it classical or acting, I was spellbound and couldn’t put the book down finishing it in one sitting.

To me I imagined Rosero sitting down in his favourite writing chair, a glass of his favourite tipple in close proximity and writing the first thing that came to his head with a prose that simply flowed and flowed until the finality of its conclusion.

Good Offices oozes quality from the magnificent print, sumptuous prose and a high quality paper. Such a tactile book, even though it may be a little short on stature weighing in at just 142 pages, this is an elegant book – something you come to expect from MacLehose Press.

The story is a curious one and takes place over a relatively short time period of one day and one night. Good Offices is vibrant and imaginative and despite its limited scope I found it quirky and surprisingly moreish. Characterisation is obviously limited but Tancredo, Father Matamoros and the Lilias stole the show for me especially when alcohol was consumed and its effects obvious for all to see!

I’m not going to comment on the religious side of the book as I’m certainly not knowledgeable enough in the intricacies of the Catholic Church and its inner sanctum. Suffice to say some of the vocabulary – particularly during the mass – went way over my head but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. With the arrival of Father Matamoros, who stands in the lead the mass with minutes to spare, the fun begins and thanks to a rather healthy dose of 25% proof Hazelnut liqueur Matamoros conducts himself with aplomb considering his inebriated state. An instant hit with one and all, the congregation is moved in a way that has been severely lacking for some time. Matamoros is a breath of fresh air and they simply can’t get enough of him.

Mass had finished , but the old ladies of the Neighbourhood Civic Association remained rigid in their seats, pillars of the Church, absorbed in mute song, the silence of centuries.

It was as if no-one wanted to leave.

The story itself then descends into a black comedy where anything can and does happen. Suffice to say there are a few shocks in store but Rosero manages to keep it all fairly believable – to a point! The book made me smile and I came away grateful for having read it, not much more you can ask from a book. Set in Bogotá this is the first time I’ve read a book set in Colombia and I can categorically say it won’t be the last!

Published by MacLehose Press Good Offices is available in Hardback & Kindle.

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