The Malta Independent 14 July 2024, Sunday
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Book review: Death comes for the monsignor

Noel Grima Sunday, 3 December 2023, 08:30 Last update: about 8 months ago

Author: Joe Camilleri
Publisher: Horizons / 2023
Pages: 271


The elderly priest, a monsignor no less, lies in a bed in one of the oncology wards. Facing him is a woman patient, somewhat younger than him.

The priest, looking at the woman, seems to remember that face. At the end, overcome by curiosity, he asks her if they had met before.

The woman knows who he is and remembers very well where they had met and what they had to say to each other.

The woman's marriage had broken down, through no fault of hers, and she was in a new relationship. But the priest, who was in the marriage tribunal, was adamant. She had to end this new relationship.

All this was years ago and now the two were destined to meet in an oncology ward.

She could not forget how the priest had sent her away. That decided her - that same day she had taken her relationship to a higher grade. And began to live a life characterised with love on the one hand and the condemnation of her village neighbours.

Years passed and Malta changed. The power of the Church declined and there were now many who's life resembled hers. In the woman's heart there was no anger, just pity for the elderly priest who was facing the same illness.

This story, which I have rendered in my words, is but one of the 20 included in this book, which is the eighth collection of short stories by the author, apart from two novels. The other collections are: Solitudni fil-Folla (2007), Fir-Rokna tas-Silenzju (2008), Zwiemel tar-Rih (2010), Muzajci tat-Tafal (2020), Ir-Ragel tas-Skiet (2021), Dawl mill-Kantini (2021) and L-Eku tal-Habbata (2022).

In this collection the author has moved away, in my opinion, from his previous Gozitan context and is now operating in a wider context.

There are other stories in this collection and many of them make interesting reading.

Take at random, Nhar il-Qaddisin Kollha, a full volume rant by an elderly patient in hospital, convinced her husband was betraying her. Or Qmis Roza f'Ragg ix-Xemx, coming from Italy to attend the funeral of a man he could not remember. Or Bhalissa d-daqqa, the pressure on inheritors of an old property to pull it down and build apartments instead. Or Pagna mid-djarju ta' fuq l-ixkaffa, a woman whose marriage had collapsed gets acquainted with a boy playing on a beach in Gozo, only to learn dreadful news from Facebook.

And so on and so on.

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