Bishop is my first experience with Candace Nola, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book either narratively or stylistically. The cover at first resembled a werewolf story to me—and I confess to having a weak-spot for werewolf narratives!—but upon closer inspection I realised it’s not a wolf, but a bear… This is a significant aspect of the story, in more ways than one.
Bishop is a novella, and its pacing reflects that. The opening chapters unfold at breakneck speed. Nothing feels rushed and yet we immediately get a strong sense of place—the frozen desolation of Alaska—and the hardy people within it. Our focus at the start of the narrative rests on Troy. His sister and niece have been missing for five days in the wilderness, and he’s determined to find them. In his desperation, for time is of the essence in these survival scenarios, he turns to a local legend—the mysterious man Bishop—to guide him into the wilds and find his missing family.
As soon as Bishop, the eponymous character of the story, is introduced, the story goes to another level. The strongest suite of the novella is by far the burgeoning relationship between Bishop and Troy. Bishop is a stoic man of few words, who seems more part of the landscape than human society. Troy is a caring and thoughtful man, altogether quite sensitive. Bishop is incredibly physically strong to almost superhuman levels. Troy has a busted knee from a hiking trip that went wrong. Yet both are determined and courageous in their own way. I found myself becoming heavily invested in their strange friendship, and the respect they gained for one another, and this is especially impressive to achieve in such a short space.
Set against this “buddy story”, for lack of a better term, is the story of the two women, Casey (the niece) in particular, who are trying to survive cut off from the rest of the world, hunted by something that seems like more than simply a beast of the forest… Casey is a plucky character, resourceful and driven. She’s no mere damsel in distress, and nor is her mother Erin, however what pursues them is beyond their experience, an evil that is deeply unnatural.
There is some cool world-building and lore here when we discover what is chasing these women and why. Without giving too much away, I could have stood to have read even more of it. I felt there was a fascinating backstory tantalisingly within reach, but it does not fully come to light. However, what we do see is interesting, and even more so when it is matched against Bishop’s narrative. Bishop is an enigmatic character, and sometimes giving enigmatic characters backstory can diminish their power, but not so here. We’re shown just enough to understand a little more about the man, but not so much as to break his spell.
I was also impressed by how Candace Nola was prepared to make narrative sacrifices. To overcome evil, we have to give up something. Something is lost so something is gained, it’s rule 101 of narrative climax (I’ve stolen this principle from Tristine Rainer and her fabulous book Your Life As Story). Candace Nola understands this and the scenes revolving around this loss are some of the strongest in the book. Her characters feel like they have real emotional interiors and give credible responses to trauma, and again, this is hard to do at the best of times, even more so in a novella-length piece.
I do have one minor criticism of the novella: I think Bishop could have done with further editing. There are quite a few typos in relation to how long the novella is. That said, Bishop shows a writer with tremendous talent, and hopefully that talent will get the nurturing it deserves in future efforts.
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