NATIONAL PRIZE WINNER: Set in 7th century England, The Oblate’s Confession tells the story of Winwaed, a boy who – in a practice common at the time – is donated by his father to a local monastery. In a countryside wracked by plague and war, the child comes to serve as a regular messenger between the monastery and a hermit living on a nearby mountain. Missing his father, he finds a surrogate in the hermit, an old man who teaches him woodcraft, the practice of contemplative prayer, and, ultimately, the true meaning of fatherhood. When the boy’s natural father visits the monastery and asks him to pray for the death of his enemy – an enemy who turns out to be the child’s monastic superior – the boy’s life is thrown into turmoil. It is the struggle Winawed undergoes to answer the questions – Who is my father? Whom am I to obey? – that animates, and finally necessitates, The Oblate’s Confession.
While entirely a work of fiction, the novel’s background is historically accurate: all the kings and queens named really lived, all the political divisions and rivalries actually existed, and each of the plagues that visit the author’s imagined monastery did in fact ravage that long-ago world. In the midst of a tale that touches the human in all of us, readers will find themselves treated to a history of the “Dark Ages” unlike anything available today outside of textbooks and original source material.