Brendan: A Novel

by Frederick Buechner

Paperback, 2000


Checked out



An acclaimed author interweaves history and legend to re-create the life of a complex man of faith fifteen hundred years ago. Winner of the 1987 Christianity and Literature Book Award for Belles-Lettres.


HarperOne (2000), Edition: Reissue, 256 pages


½ (48 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member john.cooper
For me to deeply love a book of fiction these days, it has to impress me at the sentence level, and does this one triumph! Written in the first person by a companion of the sixth-century Irish Saint Brendan, it's as vivid and warm and lusty and funny and tragic as the soul of Ireland itself. It
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reads like a transcription of a spoken tale, alternately grave and deadpan whimsical. It astounds me that an American Presbyterian could capture this voice. I kept reading because I was drawn by the voice, not by the story, though it's a great story as well.

The legend of Brendan, who is called the Navigator and whom some believe to have reached the Americas, is a collection of tall tales, told here with little attempt to tone down their miraculousness. It's not important to believe that these things happened in real life; it is important that as with any fantastic tale, from Jonah to Star Wars, you cooperate with the story and not resist it or scoff. There are marvels, but the jewels of the book are its characters, the people in Brendan's orbit. I'm certain at least one of them will speak to you in a special way. For me it was Malo, a bitter and mean man who is at first impossible to like. When I found out what cruelty had made Malo so bitter, the harshness of it almost turned me against the book. But when he eventually came to something like peace, the insight that healed him put a catch in my throat. For you, no doubt, some other character or incident will have a similar force.

This is an earnest book but not a sentimental one. If you have trouble telling the two apart, beware.
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LibraryThing member kvrfan
In the beginning, Brendon read like a Celtic version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--in fact, I began to think of it as The Adventures of Brendan/Finn, since Finn, a traveling companion of Brendan's, serves as first-person narrator. The similarities: both involve a journey, there are
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encounters with idiosyncratic characters, and the stories are told in vernacular (sometimes which is quite amusing).

The novel takes a turn, however, when Brendan sets out to sea on his famous voyage in the hopes of finding paradisical Tir-na-n-og. Because Finn is left behind, the voyage is narrated by Brendan's journals. And Brendan isn't nearly as entertaining a traveling companion as Finn.

It's hard to know why Brendan inspires such loyalty in Finn or in any of the disciples who attach themselves to him. Though a mystic, little speaks of any charisma he possesses. It sometimes feels his friends feel the need to attach themselves so closely to him as much to protect him as to follow him. But maybe there's a lesson about mystics here--that there is often is but a fine line between holiness and craziness.

Upon return from Brendan's (first) voyage, Finn thankfully picks up the narration again. But the journey he now documents is not so much a romp meeting quirky people as it is that into the interior of Brendan's soul. The first voyage affects Brendan so deeply as to undertake a second voyage. And that affects him even more profoundly as to challenge the foundation of his faith. Dear, deep, and touching things happen. And holiness is revealed in the simplest things.
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LibraryThing member faulknerd_2000
For a brief period in my youth, I was fascinated by tales of Europeans who may have discovered America before Columbus. During this time, I found this interesting little novel by Buechner. It creates a wonderful dark ages atmosphere and brings to life a character from the mists of history. Not to
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ruin the ending, but it was rather disappointing considering the initial magical realism that began the book.
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LibraryThing member Harrod
Still one of my most favorite books
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
This novel tells the story of 6th century Irish Saint Brendan. What is known of his life is as much legend as fact. Buechner imagines plausible explanations for some of the miraculous legends about Brendan, while leaving open supernatural explanations for others. Buechner's Brendan has feet of
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clay. He spends his youth living out the expectations of Bishop Erc and his tutor Ita, then spends his mature years bitterly repenting his earlier choices and their consequences.

The book is narrated by Brendan's friend, Finn, who seems not to have taken holy orders despite spending most of his life at Brendan's side. The exception is the section describing Brendan's first voyage, which seems to be a retelling of the Navigatio and is supposedly Brendan's journal from the voyage. Finn's dialect is similar to that of Appalachia, using “was” in place of “were”, “come” instead of “came”, etc. It seems like an odd choice. The shift in narrator from Finn to Brendan's journal, then back to Finn, didn't work well for me either. This is the second of Buechner's books that I've read. Godric is the better of the two, but I didn't like the way the central characters were portrayed in either book. It may be that Buechner's style just doesn't suit my reading tastes. I'm not sure I'll try any more of his work.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Beautifully written, this books makes us feel the pain and suffering of its title character. Even if you don't consider yourself religious, this book pulls you in and entangles you in the life of a Celtic saint.
LibraryThing member patl
This is a historical fiction novel, enfleshing the life and story of Saint Brendan the Navigator. Brendan is one of the best-known Celtic saints and perhaps best known for his adventuring spirit, which took him on sea voyages that went as far as Greenland and quite possibly North America from the
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northwest coast of the US and perhaps to Florida.

I'm familiar with Brendan's story, and this novel does the story great justice. It's engaging and entertaining, playful even.

I'm even more impressed with the author of the story and will certainly read more Buechner.

4.5 stars. I'm rounding up because it starts and ends well.
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LibraryThing member Iudita
Very niche but I enjoyed it. It is creative and well written.
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