The Riddle of Father Hackett: A life in Ireland and Australia
National Library of Australia, $39.95 pb, 320 pp, 9780642276858
Brenda Niall has the knack of lucid multi-focus, a great thing in a biographer. That organisational deftness, an ability to keep the tangled loops of people’s lives spooling freely through her fingers while she projects a rich and dramatic context for them, was evident in her group study of The Boyds (2002), and it is the structural virtue in this new work, The Riddle of Father Hackett.
William Hackett was Irish-born, a ‘Kilkenny Hackett’, son of a much- loved, blithely improvident and bookish doctor, and of a capable and intelligent mother whose necessary realism made her sometimes severe. William (‘Willie’) grew up surrounded by boisterous, articulate brothers and sisters, formidable in their talk and their independence of mind, but ever loyal. Willie needed that loving loyalty when, in 1895, as a gregarious seventeen-year-old, he chose to follow the austere life of a Jesuit priest.