The Man Who Saved My Soul
By Tony Hendra
Random House Trade, Paperback, 9780812972344, 304pp.
Publication Date: May 31, 2005
Like everything human, it started with sex. In 1955, fourteen-year-old Tony found himself entangled with a married Catholic woman. In Cold War England, where Catholicism was the subject of news stories and Graham Greene bestsellers, Tony was whisked off by the woman's husband to see a priest and be saved.
Yet what he found was a far cry from the priests he'd known at Catholic school, where boys were beaten with belts or set upon by dogs. Instead, he met Father Joe, a gentle, stammering, ungainly Benedictine who never used the words "wrong" or "guilt," who believed that God was in everyone and that "the only sin was selfishness." During the next forty years, as his life and career drastically ebbed and flowed, Tony discovered that his visits to Father Joe remained the one constant in his life--the relationship that, in the most serious sense, saved it.
From the fifties and his adolescent desire to join an abbey himself; to the sixties, when attending Cambridge and seeing the satire of "Beyond the Fringe" convinced him to change the world with laughter, not prayer; to the seventies and successful stints as an original editor of "National Lampoon" and a writer of "Lemmings," the off-Broadway smash that introduced John Belushi and Chevy Chase; to professional disaster after co-creating the legendary English series "Spitting Image"; from drinking to drugs, from a failed first marriage to a successful second and the miracle of parenthood--the years only deepened Tony's need for the wisdom of his other and more real father, creating a bond that could not be broken, even by death.
A startling departure for this acclaimed satirist, Father Joe is a sincere account of how Tony Hendra learned to love. It's the story of a whole generation looking for a way back from mockery and irony, looking for its own Father Joe, and a testament to one of the most charismatic mentors in modern literature.
"Tony Hendra has accomplished one hell of a lot in his life, and doubtless has many achievements ahead of him, but this memoir of his spiritual journey, and the monk who guided it, will almost certainly be his masterpiece."
"I picked up Father Joe intending to read just a couple of pages before bed--and found that I couldn't put it down until I'd finished it. The nature of a wise man, and the true nature of what wisdom feels like in action, is beautifully captured in Tony Hendra's portrait of Father Joe, who is one of the few convincing saints in recent writing. The book's last episode, when Hendra brings his son to meet Father Joe, brought unexpected tears to my weary eyes."
"Father Joe is a many-layered memoir of a god-driven Englishman, Tony Hendra. When I read passages to my wife and my voice began to give way she said, Keep going, keep going. I really didn't need much urging. I could easily have read the whole book in one sitting but it's too rich, too powerful, overwhelming. Even when he's describing his days of wine, roses and rock and roll Mr. Hendra gives himself no quarter. There are furious paragraphs where he echoes Hamlet's 'Why, what an ass am I.' But we know, from the subtitle, 'The Man Who Saved My Soul' that salvation is down the road. Father Joe waits for this wild, satirical, loving, poetic, lusty, blasphemous penitent. You might see some of yourself in Tony Hendra. If you see anything of yourself in Father Joe you are blessed. Like me you might cherish this book so much you'll keep it on the shelf beside St. Augustine, St. Theresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, and when you dip into it you might hear Gregorian chant from the monks of Quarr."