Book #68

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

For Gideon Mack, faithless minister, unfaithful husband and troubled soul, the existence of God, let alone the Devil, is no more credible than that of ghosts or fairies. Until the day he falls into a gorge and is rescued by someone who might just be Satan himself.

Mack's testament - a compelling blend of memoir, legend, history, and, quite probably, madness - recounts one man's emotional crisis, disappearance, resurrection and death. It also transports you into an utterly mesmerising exploration of the very nature of belief.

I last read this book twelve years ago, and remember liking it enough that it deserved a reread. I’m now not sure why.

It’s certainly a curious wee tale, unique in both its telling and its premise. A Scottish minister who meets the devil truly is something which should be documented, but the way in which Robertson delivers is at times dry and unengaging.

Initially, we’re given a note from a publisher who’s discovered Gideon Mack’s manuscript, written before his death, which accounts for his life and his subsequent meeting with the devil. As we read the manuscript, we see notes from the publisher peppered throughout, some clarifying, and some doubting. It soon becomes clear Gideon is an entirely unreliable narrator, which ramps up the pondering of his experience. The manuscript itself isn’t consistent in its engagement - at times I was pulled in completely, at others I couldn’t bear to open the book at all. There were also a number of religious comments which went entirely over my head.

Gideon appealed to me as a person, mostly coming across as sweet and vulnerable. I found myself completely supporting him and his decisions, which seemed odd due to some of the actions he takes. His life experience says much about him, and we’d be forgiven for assuming his friendship with the lord of the underworld was some kind of mental break.

The epilogue consists of the publisher interviewing characters who had appeared in Gideon's manuscript. There was potential here to uncover some secrets, or tie up some loose ends, but not much was given. I was looking for revelation.

An odd little read; different, philosophical, questioning. It can take some work and interpretation, but it’s a worthwhile task to complete.