Of all the poisons that can infest the human mind
only one cannot receive Absolution
Absolution was originaly printed as a paperback in the UK by Corgi Books on 25th May 1979 and marketed as a movie tie-in for the film which had been shot the previous year.
On 30th November that year, Severn House reprinted it in hardback form and the jacket notes tell us: "Absolution is a suspense thriller in which the motives are as uneasy and passionate as the crimes. It concerns old-fashioned, but ageless themes like revenge, suspense, terror and death."
With the book, Shaffer was able to explore the inner conflicts of the Catholic faith and go into greater detail of the torment and despair between the three main characters Father Goddard, Benji and Arthur. We learn that Father Goddard once worked as a Missionary in Africa when he was younger, and that Benji's father had left his mother when he was a child. The characters are almost given a new dimesion through the text and other names which didn't make it to the film are brought forward for us here.
For the full story synopsis please see the Absolution page on the Screenplays section of this site.
The basic plot of the novel runs true to the film however there are some differences worth noting:
A scene not in Shaffer's script or in the film is where Benji first encounters Blakey by trying to catch him as he runs away from the school having just stolen the food from the kitchen. They have a scuffle but Benji lets him go. A scene involving Arthur Dyson reading a letter from a Spanish girlfriend of one of the boys is included in the novel and is similar to the one in Shaffer's script. This scene didn't make it to the finished film. There is more talk among the boys about Father Goddard and Benji spending time together and this causes some hostility between Benji and one of the other boys.
Several sections of dialogue have been shifted to different scenes and, at times, said by different people. The scene where Father Goddard talks about confession takes place at the breakfast table instead of the classroom as shown in the film. Father Goddard also tells them about the meaning of Absolution and takes them to the chapel to the confessional cubicle to familiar them with it.
DYSON: "But does it mean, Father, that if you're given absolution the sin is completely forgiven?"
FATHER GODDARD: "Yes. But it does not of course wash away the sin itself. What's done is done.
The lesson with the boys translating the texts of 'Caesars Gallic Wars' is much longer in the book. First, Father Goddard humiliates Arthur Dyson for not being able to translate a simple text and then is infuriated by Benji for translating the text in modern day slang. Father Goddard puts them both on detention for this. This class is also joined by the elderly deputy Father Rivers, who sits in with the boys to see how they are progressing. This part of the book then goes into the scene of the film where Arthur talks about siege ramps and is bellowed at by Father Goddard for pushing for a discussion on strategy.
Father Goddard also learns that Blakey has been asked by one of the other priests to work in the school grounds, something which Father Goddard does his best to stop.
The scenes involving Benji and Blakey are more detailed in the novel, just as they are in Shaffer's script (and only really hinted at in the finished film.) We see their friendship evolving and learn more about Blakey's history and how he became a traveller. The book also retains the scene from Shaffer's script of the boys in Benji's dorm warning him about seeing Blakey as he might cause trouble for them all. He takes no notice of their warnings and goes on seeing Blakey anyway.
As well as scenes and dialogue being shifted or extended, there is one scene which does not feature in the book but is in Shaffer's script and the finished film. This is the scene where Benji is sitting with Blakey and his girlfriend Louella. Even when Benji is confessing to Father Goddard about his sexual activities in the woods, there is no mention of Blakey's girlfriend.
The ending where Arthur reveals himself as the murderer to Father Goddard is an extended part of which we see in the film. The final page also has a new ending which is unique to the book.