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Jubilate – Michael Arditti

February 25, 2016

UntitledChaucer observed that pilgrimages bring together people with contrasting motivations and this is certainly true of the main characters in this novel. The charcter Vincent says that he did Chaucer for O’ level English, Actually, it’s on the A’ level syllabus.

And ‘healing’ isn’t necessarily physical.

‘Jubilate” = ‘be joyful’ yet here are the hopeless, the desperate, the bereaved and the sick. In this story, ‘Jubilate’ is the title for the 150th anniversary celebration of Lourdes.

Gillian is a Roman Catholic who takes her husband Richard, who is suffering from brain damage which has left him with the lewd behaviour of a teenager, along with his mother Patricia, a devotee of the Lourdes pilgrimage. Gillian doesn’t really have much faith in Lourdes and goes reluctantly and slightly standoffishly but is drawn into it by the stories of the other pilgrims.

Vincent is a Television producer making a programme about Lourdes with permission to follow this particular group of pilgrims around. He is an atheist and a cynic, with a Roman Catholic childhood behind him. As his story develops you discover that he is as wounded as the pilgrims around him.

It takes a teenager to point out the anti-semitism in the portrayal of the stations of the cross.

I loved the bit where Vincent tries to find a condom – in Lourdes.

The chapters are a bit too long for my taste.

In an interview with the author, he explained that 10 years ago he ate some unpasteurised goats’ cheese which set up an infection and destroyed two discs at the base of his spine.

“It thrust me into middle age,“because the first thing people see when they meet me is a stick. Thankfully I can write. And it may sound pious but there are people so much worse off. Being able to say, ‘Why not me?’ is one of the advantages of having faith.”

Yes, he always has had faith, although it may have wobbled a bit when he was in his 20s. He sees it as an enormous gift because “one is not afraid of so many things”.

He went on his first pilgrimage because of his disability – he wanted the strength to carry on. And he went because of his faith; you have to have faith when you think that in 150 years there have been only 67 accredited medical miracles

Arditti takes on board all the doubters: Vincent, his central character, is the voice of all non-believers when he asks why miracles are not visible – why, for instance, an amputee does not grow a new leg. “There are,” says Arditti, “all sorts of miracles.”

He is very aware of the showbiz aspect of Lourdes – the shops are part of the enormous commercial area – and there are apparently more hotels there than anywhere else in France other than Paris.

The area devoted to St Bernadette’s shrine is even more vast: “acres of Disneyfied churches and chapels, conference centres.”

How does a man of Arditti’s sensitivity find any sort of comfort there, enough to make him go back three times?

“What made it bearable for me was the people,” he explains. “Yes, there is an element of playing on people’s credulity, and I really do not like seeing comatose people on drips being wheeled in processions – but it is still inspirational.

“It has an aura of faith, hope, altruism, physical courage. The real miracle is that it gives people the strength to carry on – as it did for me.

“The generosity of the people who go to help – all volunteers, and a lot of them are very young – is remarkable.”


seri­ously, mate, it’s a very special place. Forget the Costa del Sol, this is the Costa del Hope

We edge through the milling crowds, down a narrow side street lined with cheap religious souvenir shops.

`Welcome to the town that taste forgot, I say.

The perfect place for Christmas shopping, Jamie says.

`Sure, if all your friends are nuns, Jewel says.

`I’ve never felt so Protestant in my life, Sophie says.

Answers: he replies with unnerving intensity ‘Why? Are ye going to give us some?’

`Answers to what?’

`People come to Lourdes cos they’re good people, right?’

`In the main, yes; I expect so, I reply, taken aback.

“Then God lets them die. Why?’ My studied silence forces him to expand. `This morning, we passed a pile-up on the autoroute. A coach full of Poles … Polish people._ It skidded across three lanes. straight into the opposite traffic. There was blood and guts ever where. You could see the bodies.

`No you couldn’t, Key.’ One of his friends interjects. ‘They we all covered up:

`Well you could see the stretchers, so you knew they were there

And there was this stink of burning flesh:

`Burning tyres, you dork!’

Kevin draws me aside. `But they weren’t ordinary Poles. It were pilgrims who’d been to Lourdes. Yesterday – maybe ti morning even – they were at mass. Some of them were sick. Some them were kids. Some of them were sick kids. Maybe some of thi had been cured. What’s the point of coming here then if God all that to happen? Tell me: what?’ I say nothing, signalling to Jam zoom in on Kevin’s tortured face, confident that it is far more eloquent than any doubts I might express.

Although the Church no longer emasculates its choristers, continues to infantilise its congregations. The thought depresses and I am grateful for the chance to bury it in the formality of Eucharistic prayers, but the respite is cut short when Father D announces the Peace. I am wrenched back to my childhood and dreaded moment each Sunday when I had to shake hands, first Father Damian, whose clammy palm contained the threat of so thing more intimate, and then with Douglas, my fellow altar boy weekly nemesis who, daring me not to squeal, turned the exchange into a Chinese burn.

the Cardinal moves into the congregation and raises the monstrance to bless each section in turn. I feel none of the unease that I felt about attending mass. This is Christ coming to me in pity for my weakness, not me .coming to him in defiance of my sin.

Patricia laughs immoderately at an account of three nuns in a priest’s life (`none yesterday, none today and tomorrow’), that she would have deplored from anyone else. a quip that the favourite hymn in a crematorium is ‘Light Up Fire, Oh Lord!’ falls flat. After a rare non-clerical joke (`horse is what stops horses betting on humans’)…

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