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A Perfectly Good Man

by Patrick Gale

A young man, Lenny, paralysed in a rugby scrum, decides to take his own life. He carefully buys the necessary medication and arranges for his parish priest, Barnaby, to be there. This is the compelling opening to Patrick Gale's fourteenth novel.

The many readers who were captivated by Gale's 2009 novel, NOTES FROM AN EXHIBITION, will enjoy this one. Both novels are set in west Cornwall and while they are a hymn to the beauty of that particular landscape, they are dealing with universal themes of moral relativity and the difficulties of faith. The books also share the same structure – each character is given chapters from their point of view and, as we see the story unfold from the various perspectives, it gradually lays down deeper levels of understanding. Gale is unsurpassed in his portrayal of family dynamics and in his subtle rendering of the damage they can cause, whether due to mental illness or the more common destructive emotions of jealousy, inadequacy and disappointment. Reading a Patrick Gale novel is to become deeply involved with a cast of compelling characters and it is a pleasure to return in A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN to some of the people we had got to know in the earlier book.

A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN is about Barnaby in his roles as priest, husband, lover and father and the tangled web he weaves when he fails to tell the whole truth. His omission “lodged like a deep splinter in his spirit and festered there” with terrible consequences. Barnaby is undoubtedly a good man, if flawed, and the excellent title suggests the moral uncertainty at the heart of this wonderful book.

Published by Fourth Estate, 416pp.

Clare Chandler

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