Father Julian Snow

(creator: Louis Buss)

Louis Buss
Father Julian Snow was, generally speaking, "a dauntingly humourless individual .... He was a young man who had an uncompromising air more usually associated with middle age. This was partly because his face was thin and hard, yet it also seemed to be something imposed from within. His lips might have been full, almost sensuous, if he'd allowed them to relax. His hair, as black and glossy as the coat of a crow, would have been luxuriously thick if he'd allowed it to grow. Instead it was severely cropped, parted and combed with fanatical precision. There was a raw, painful-looking rash around his neck, as though he'd deliberately shaved with a blunt razor to punish himself for the sin of being so handsome."

It is while hearing his confession, that his Archbishop warns him, "You're too strong, Julian, that's the trouble, too totally committed and disciplined. I can't help feeling that, if only you had some weakness, some chink in your armour, you would be a better man ... not to mention a better priest ... I believe that one day you'll achieve great things for the Church, on a national level at least, maybe even worldwide ... but let me tell you as a friend, if you don't learned humility and genuine admiration of your fellow man, however lowly he may be, then you'd be the last person I'd like to see rise to a position of authority in the church."

Aged 28, six foot tall, and very self sufficient, Snow is happy to move from his busy East End parish to the commuter belt outside London, but finds he has to struggle in the strange new world that opens up around him.

Louis Buss (1963- ) is a British author. He studied politics at Durham University and until recently, worked as a teacher. His first novel, The Luxury of Exile, won a Betty Trask Award in 1996. Ogre's Laboratory (see below) was his second book. He is the son of the late Robin Buss, film critic and translator of French classics.
I would welcome more information about him - and a larger photo. Please get in touch with me via my guest book.

Ogre's Laboratory (1998)
Ogre's Laboratory starts with Father Snow being invited by his old friend, the Archbishop of Southwark, to move to a new parish, the Catholic church of St Mark in a little place called Wodden, about 30 miles outside London, right in the commuter belt, where the previous priest, Father Conner, had committed suicide for some unknown reason.

Snow welcomes the move and soon gets to know his distinguished local patrons, the owners of Flamstead House, the eccentric Lord Trevelyan, his more friendly wife, and the powerful sinister politician, Gerald Pitman. He is very conscious of "the sadness and solitude of the presbytery" and wonders more and more about the fate of his predecessor, especially as he keeps on finding "a certain unwillingness to discuss the details".

But he gradually hears more and more stories about the 16th century "Ogre Earl", Everard Trevelyan, who had apparently been a giant with an appetite for children. He was, as Snow's new friend reporter Susan Fenton tells him, still regarded by children as "the local bogy-man, the one who'd come and get you if you didn't eat up your greens". And it turns out that Father Conner had left a note referring to a certain G whom Snow identifies as the 15th century French Catholic aristocrat and paedophile Gilles de Rais. "Father Connor knew all this." he told Susan. "What interests me is whether he knew more about your Ogre Earl than we do."

When Susan tells Snow that she has fallen in love with him, he immediately sends her home and "barely admitted even to himself, that he was reeling from the shock of happiness." He goes off to confess what is going on to a neighbouring priest, Father Ralph McKenzie, who had been an old friend of Father Conner's. He turns out to be "a stocky, scowling man in his forties ... his bulbous nose was red and pock-marked".
He asks Snow, "Is this woman a Catholic?"
"Then you have absolutely no excuse for seeing her. Bar your door to her entirely. If she says she wants to convert, which is a trick they often try, send her over here to meet me. I'll sort her out ... Right, Julian, or whatever your bloody name is, wait there while I go and get the drinks in." A moment later he returned with two tumblers and two bottles, one of whisky and one of vodka. "Right. What's your poison?"
"Tea, "said Father Snow flatly.
Ralph scowled.
"I'll pretend I didn't hear that. You can join me in a drop of vodka, and you're to drink it all up like a good boy." He began to pour.
"I never drink alcohol," said Father Snow. "I really would prefer tea, if you don't mind."
Ralph "straightened the bottle and stared at him out of small, glassy eyes. The rough bonhomie was gone from his voice." And so was any hope of early friendship, although, on his archbishop's advice, Snow later struggles to re-establish a relationship with him. And it is Ralph who tells him that Father Conner, two weeks before his death, "came in here reading about some secret room which he believed existed in Flamstead House. The ogre's laboratory, he called it." And it is this that eventually leads Snow to discover the truth behind all that has been going on.

Back in his own confessional, a woman admits to him that she is a lesbian. He firmly tells her that "homosexuality is wrong ... yet God, while deeming homosexuality as sin, has created you a homosexual, and this must seem very unfair to you at times. All I would say is this: God never asks the impossible. Those he asks to struggle are those he loves the most. He loves you more than other people because of what you are, not less. If you really have sexual feelings only for women, then perhaps he is asking you to sacrifice that form of love ... You're a good person, and I know you'll win through in the end. I promise you, you'll always be in my prayers."

But the experience left Snow "depressed for the rest of the day" for "her confession had left him with the feeling that only the broken and confused were driven to seek refuge in God, only those who can't find comfort in the ordinary world. He thought of Ralph, drinking himself to sleep each night in his huge presbytery, and Father Conner slipping into madness. He thought, too, of himself, slamming the door in Susan's face."

His friend the Archbishop points out to him that, "Your girl is only attracted to you because she senses that there may be a weakness behind all your apparent strength. If you were really certain of your vacation, she'd realise it was pointless and leave you alone ... Lots of priests had to go through this kind of test. Some of them endure it many times, but the first is always the hardest. If you can come through this, Julian, I think you will be a priest for life."

What is needed is "a human sympathy and warmth which Father Snow was incapable of giving". And then Snow is sent an indecent photograph of a girl of about eight with a man in late middle-age, and is disgusted to find that "in some awful, smothered way, the photograph had excited him. After years of solitude and celibacy, he'd suddenly been subjected to a powerful sexual stimulus, and his body had responded." Then he discovers who the man in the picture was, and that he was just one of a whole paedophile ring that was rampant in the village.

Later on, he confesses to Susan , "I need you." There "seemed strangely little shame in it now. And Father Snow fatally realised that he'd been broken at last. He'd lost his pride." His love-making had enabled him to "think of the awful photograph and now without fear. Julian was perfectly normal, not an ogre after all." Even if they were not to stay together, "he knew that he could never really loved Ralph, or even God, if he had not first loved her. There had been a purpose to it all." And his friend the kindly and saintly old Archbishop, still believes that God has work to him to do.

It is a strangely Gothic story that holds the interest throughout, even if Father Snow does not emerge as an entirely convincing character.

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Ogre's Loboratory cover
The cover has been designed with a deliberately damaged look (see below. The "stuck-on" effect is illusory and is part of the basic design).The contents are very much less dreary than the cover suggests.
Ogre's Laboratory cover
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