Bernandine Bishop, the author of Hidden Knowledge, wrote just two novels in the 1960s, before having a fifty year break before writing another three novels. I can not imagine why an author wouldn’t write. (Harper Lee, I’m asking you!)
All of the characters in Hidden Knowledge are connected by three siblings, Hereward Tree, who is a renowned author, his sister Romola, a teacher and their brother, Roger, who was recently outed as a paedophile priest.
Hereward is in his fifties when he has a heart operation and does not wake up. The events of the novel take place while he is unconscious, as his family and friends wait for him either to wake up with brain damage or to die.
Romola takes responsibility for Hereward’s affairs, which includes providing assistance to Hereward’s helpless 21 year old fiancée, Carina. Carina who is Italian, is very lonely living in the UK. During the novel the reader realises that Carina wants Hereward to die, in order that she can return to Italy as a rich woman, as she is to inherit Hereward’s estate. This should make the reader dislike Carina intensely, yet I felt sympathetic towards her and wanted her to go home to make a life with someone who was a more suitable age for her than Hereward.
As children, Romola and Hereward created and wrote stories together. Before his operation, Hereward was working on a novel, which his publisher asks Romola to forward for publishing. Romola read Hereward’s book and changed the ending, knowing that Hereward would never know. A month after finishing reading Hidden Knowledge, Romola’s actions still annoy me enormously. I’m not sure if there is a word for changing someone else’s work. It wasn’t stealing, as the book was published under Hereward’s name and it wasn’t plagiarism, as Romola did not present Hereward’s work as her own, nor did she benefit in any way by changing the book’s ending. If anyone else knows what a crime of this sort is called, I would love to know.
Also while Hereward is unconscious, Roger admits to having sexually molested a child many years ago and is sentenced to jail. Romola supports Roger emotionally during this time too. Somehow, the author creates sympathy from the reader for Roger’s character, when there should be none. Roger is honest about his crime, and completely open about his attraction to young boys. Roger seems to believe that his crimes are partly redeemed by his years of work as a priest and his good standing in the community.
Roger’s biggest secret is that he molested another boy many years ago while acting as a supervisor on a school camp. This boy drowned in an accident the day after Roger molested him. Almost randomly, the boy’s mother contacts Roger to learn more about the events surrounding her son’s death, as Roger had unsuccessfully tried to save the boy. Roger eventually admits to her that he molested her son.
Most of the characters in Hidden Knowledge have terrible failings. Despite this, I had enormous sympathy for all of them and while condemning their actions, found the book to be very well written and the story well told. The author has not shied away from some very difficult subjects and I would read more of Bernardine Bishop’s works.