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Brendan: A Novel

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  551 ratings  ·  62 reviews
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.
ebook, 256 pages
Published October 6th 2009 by HarperOne (first published 1987)
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Kathy Disanto
Jan 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Envy is a nasty emotion. That said, I would cheerfully walk five ... no, make that ten miles through the snow barefoot, every day for a month, to be able to write one tenth as powerfully as Beuchner does. This book is so full of rollicking, flesh-bound, bumbling-but-believing humanity, it threatens to burst the covers and swallow you up. Brendan may not be ten feet tall and bullet proof, but he's you and he's me and he's every believer forced to face the fact that his best will never be good ...more
Nov 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I read this book at a critical time in my life. I had just become Greek Orthodox after having been an Evangelical and then Lutheran Christian.

This book came at a time when I was having trouble with hagiography (biographical writings about the saints focused on their ministries) and its preference to see only the holiest aspects of a person's life. Perhaps I am too much a product of my culture, but I'm a person who needs to see how a saint has overcome his or her failures to become the saint we
Jane Mettee
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Frederick Buechner is a master story teller. His use of language and his characters are absolutely stunning. Part history, part fantasy, part adventure,
part spiritual journey. Brenden (484-577) was a Catholic priest who became a saint. He and his friends were early followers of Christ in Ireland. Brenden was
educated by St. Ita and ordained by Bishop Erc. His sister Brigid had her own monastery.
In an attempt to feel worthy, do penance for his sins and to imitate Christ’s sufferings he practiced
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This took me way longer to read than it should have -- possibly because I had no prior knowledge of this saint, and didn't know where the plot was going -- but I was swept up in Buechner's vivid storytelling. A perfect St Patrick's Day read.
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
Summary: This is a fictional account of the life of St. Brendan, often known as the Navigator. Buechner traces his life from being taking by St. Erc at one through his early years, the establishment of his leadership in founding Clonfert and in making kings, and most of all his marathon journeys, one lasting seven years.

I grew up near a St. Brendan's school, which was just across the field from the junior high school I attended. I never had any idea of the colorful life this saint lived, nor his
Richard LeComte
Frederick Buechner followed up his classic "Godric" with this tale of a sixth-century saint, Brendan the Navigator, as told by his close friend and aid Finn. Buechner's faux-Gaelic prose makes the novel somewhat difficult to read at first, but once one gets used to the slightly off-kilter rhythms, the story emerges as one full of humor, fantasy and poignancy. Brendan, taken from his parents at age 1, is raised to be a priest just a generation after St. Patrick has brought Christianity to ...more
Nov 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tour de force of language and character. Frederick Buechner synthesized a 6th century Irish/English and took with it the legends surrounding Brendan the Navigator, the 6th-century Irish monk who travelled to North America with a small crew of monks, by means of a modified curraugh.

The book is partly about this voyage, but mostly about the inner voyage of a human struggling with life, faith, and longing for what he cannot have in this life.

Tim Severin , The Brendan Voyage, a modern day
BC Batcheshire
I identify as an atheist - and I loved this book. The religious themes do not in any way diminish the value of the story, or impede the ultimate value of the work - this ultimate value being, in short, that to love a man is to know him, and all the more surely to love our fellowmen we must learn to open ourselves to unvarnished knowledge of their true individual character, each in their own accord.
I'll also praise the imagery therein, as the author's skill in poetry is his greatest service to
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brendan is a sometimes whimsical, sometimes stern blend of history, fairy tale, and old-fashioned Tall Tale. The book is in the spirit of the ancient accounts of Brendan of Clonfert's life, when Christian chroniclers accepted the fantastic without batting an eye, from the existence of sea monsters and Faerie-land and it's myriad denizens to the bizarre and far-fetched "Christian" miracles of the sort you see in Dark Ages or Medieval writings. Buechner takes all that and runs with it, fleshing ...more
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Buechner book and it won't be my last. The language was earthy, the syntax (that of the narrator, Finn) awakens one's inner Irishman (everybody has a little Irish in them, right?). Buechner's descriptions put me in mind of the glowing illustrations in an illuminated manuscript. This is a world fantastical, harsh, and still very pagan. The main conflict revolves around Brendan's longing for Tir-na-n-Og, essentially heaven, and all those he loves who've preceded him there. The ...more
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brendan is an unusual tale in the form of an immram (Irish navigational narrative), full of both whimsical and profound moments, and, increasingly, mercy. It tells the story of Brendan, an Irish saint and seafarer seeking the glory of Christ in his search for Paradise.

This book was a delightful surprise. I started it out of loyalty to the author - I have enjoyed his other works - but not terribly excited about the premise. It took me about 1/4 of the book to be won over, and when I finished it,
Milan Homola
Very interesting story. I wasn't sure what to expect. I almost gave it up around page 60 but I pressed on and I'm really glad I did. Good moral to the story it just takes awhile to get there. Some good quotes: a judgmental character says "I'm as crippled as the dark world." Main character replies "if it comes to that, which one of us isn't." " To lend each other a hand when we're falling, perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end."
J. Alfred
Throw Irish mythology non-homogeneously in with Christian theology and then add The Odyssey, sort of. And then a bunch of Buechnerian stuff about how faith never actually appears to be rewarded and human evil is impossible to contemplate alongside assertions of God's goodness so on. And then say bombastic words like "pizzle."
It's pretty good.
I want to give this 2 stars but I can't because it's my namesake St. Brendan. While a fictional tale of the true stories of St. Brendan that could be fascinating, I found the writing tedious. However, at times it was brilliant. It was hard to finish but I'm glad I read it.
Albert Norton
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is startlingly good. Buechner knows what he's writing about. I felt like I was in medieval Ireland the whole time. If you've ever found yourself wondering at the level of religious devotion in ages past, read this book. Read it regardless, it's an adventure.
Damien Rappuhn
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Amazing book. A fun, deeply engaging and emotional journey into ancient Christianity.
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This deserves more than three stars, but lately I've been unreasonably stingy.

Buechner strikes gold once again with this unusual tale of the saint Brendan, a 10th century Irish Catholic priest whose life is hallmarked by the many fantastic tales told about him. Separated from his uneducated parents at a young age and raised by nuns and monks, he set off on a journey by both land and sea in his early twenties at the urging of a friendly old nun, Ita.

Like all of Buechner's work, this novel is
John Cooper
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 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 ...more
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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
Mar 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an book. I'm glad I read the J.Philip Newell one first on recommendation by Phil (not Phil brother-in-law, Phil). :)

I'm not sure how to like it on the 5 point scale. It took me a bit to adjust to the style, which is very appropriate to the subject matter and point of just took me a bit to adjust to it. There are a lot of gross, and by gross, I mean, expansive or ... pervasive and yet also... unsettling in a primitive/kind of disgusting way (? you
Apr 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part history, part fantasy, part epic, part tall tale, this book left me feeling a bit dizzy. I appreciated the research and creativity that went into the story, and the writing was great. But the content tended to be a little too crass and (ahem) earthy for my taste, although I'm sure it captures the pre-Christian/post-Roman Irish culture rather well: severed heads on pikes, Druid magic, vulgar fertility rites, sea sickness, a mid-ocean conversation with Judas Iscariot, chess games with a blind ...more
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Found this title from a quote in another book. This one is a novel about a real St. Brendan who was born in 484 in Ireland. I could actually hear the Irish lilt in the words as I read. Set in the time of King Arthur, this is the story of Brendan, a baby taken from his parents to be raised with the monks. His life if a journey full of adventure and travels through Ireland and out to sea. He spends his life searching for Tri na n Og, Terrestrial Paradise and the tale is fascinating. Meetings with ...more
Allie Sheets
I have never heard the name Brendan before I read this book. I did my research after reading this book, and I found out that this is based on Saint Brendan, one of the first monks to reach America. This book follows Brendan during his life through the eyes of his life long friend, Finn. When I think of monks, I usually imagine a bunch of men praying for days one end. However, Brendan did much more than praying. He traveled a lot. He went from city to city to talk about the word of God. He also ...more
Janet Kim
Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people that like good story-telling.
Recommended to Janet by: Jason Toth
I loved the concept of this book--taking a medieval legend and extending it to novel proportions. The language was beautiful and archaic with some curious recurring motifs. The chapter/section written from the point of view of the titular character (I love the word "titular") was particularly lovely. At certain times I was slightly reminded of Tolkien and you can interpret that however you want to (good or bad). It's just an observation, not a judgment.

Oh, and the person who recommended this
Pat Loughery
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 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
Ken Vaughan
Nov 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
Saint Brendan is one of the most well-known Irish saints. This fictionalized account of his life is narrated by his life-long friend Finn.
The story follows Brendan’s life, from his birth around 484, to his death 91 years later. Central to the story are two sea voyages Brendan undertook.
The author weaves what little is known about the historical Brendan with the mythology which emerged in the years after his death, to create a convincing first person narrative. The story is told with wit and
Karen Hsu
Jan 09, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This book is a crazy ride. It has tall tales (and places where you have to go back and reread a section because your reaction is "What just happened?!") and bawdy excerpts and touching moments.

Buechner really highlighted the human side of Brendan's life (he's an Irish monk by legend) through the eyes of Brendan's best friend Finn. The language was a little hard to read (since it ignored a lot of grammar rules), but was authentic and raw.

It was different from anything I've ever read before, and I
Jun 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed Brendan: A Novel very much - his method of retelling the myth alternates between an involved narrator perspective to a more mythological one when Brendan and crew sail in search of Tír na nÓg.

The characters and story are entertainingly funny with streaks of sadness and sad reverie keeping it from flying off in the too farcical direction.

I would have given it 5 stars if I didn't find my interest getting a bit lost in during the first Tír na nÓg section.

Taking a breather and coming back
Apr 29, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brendan is a biographical novel about Brendan (484-577 A.D.), an Irish monk who lived shortly after St. Patrick. Legends about Brendan are retold, especially that of his voyage in a leather covered boat with a few companions that lasted several years. The final chapter provides insight "We are cripples all of us....To lend each other a hand when we're falling," Brendan said. "Perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end."

It's a look at primitive monastic life. Impressive that the gospel
Matt Lundquist
I got halfway through this before I realized it was based on historical info about a legendary Irish saint. The story is heavily embellished but then the legend is too. A large italicised section in the middle of the book is all about a fantastic voyage (to Newfoundland & Florida?) The style and descriptions are all intended to take you back to the Middle Ages. I'd like to read more about Ireland in this time period. This wasn't the best for that. I still don't understand exactly how he was ...more
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Frederick Buechner is a highly influential writer and theologian who has won awards for his poetry, short stories, novels and theological writings. His work pioneered the genre of spiritual memoir, laying the groundwork for writers such as Anne Lamott, Rob Bell and Lauren Winner.

His first book, A Long Day's Dying, was published to acclaim just two years after he graduated from Princeton. He
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