A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale

A Perfectly Good Man

5*

Having read Notes from an Exhibition earlier this year I expected to like Patrick Gale’s A Perfectly Good Man, so I’m delighted to say that I loved it.

I have read plenty of books that move backwards and forwards in time and move from one character to another, but not one like A Perfectly Good Man, that does it so successfully that you don’t experience any confusion or struggle to remember who is who – at least that was my experience with this book. It’s set in Cornwall, in particular in Pendeen and Morvah, north-west of Penzance, the setting for Notes from an Exhibition.

The ‘perfectly good man‘ is Barnaby Johnson, a parish priest, a man who always tries to do the right thing; needless to say he doesn’t always manage it. There’s his wife, Dorothy, who becomes known, not appropriately as ‘Dot’, his daughter, Carrie, his adopted Vietnamese son ‘Jim’, who, in the course of the book, reverts to his native name ‘Phuc’, pronounced to rhyme with ‘foot’ and not ‘luck’, and a particularly nasty character who calls himself ‘Modest Carlsson’.

But the novel begins with Lenny, aged 20, who is paralysed after an accident playing rugby and is in a wheelchair. He is unable to cope with the prospect of a life never being able to run or  walk again, a life of people making allowances for him, of charity; he had lived for nights out with his girlfriend,and for rugby. He asks Barnaby to be with him as a witness to his suicide and to pray for him.

I got to know these people very well over the course of the book and eventually understand their individual stories and how their lives interconnect. The significance of their actions not only on themselves but on the others around them became so real as I read on – for example, Dot’s anguish over her miscarriages and the consequences, not just on her and the boy, but on the whole family and community, of adopting a Vietnamese orphan is agonisingly plain. I was pleased to see glimpses of some characters from Notes from an Exhibition as they made fleeting appearances, and a return of Morwenna Middleton to the area, which explained what had happened to her after the events of Notes from an Exhibition. Modest Carlsson is the antithesis of Father Barnaby in his cruel and heartless behaviour in destroying what is a treasured possession and in revealing a devastating secret that he should have kept to himself.

A Perfectly Good Man is a beautifully written book about faith and the loss of faith, about love and cruelty and deception, about ordinary life and about everyday tragedies, and also sublime moments. It’s a quiet novel that left me feeling I must read more of Patrick Gale’s books. Fortunately I already have one more on my shelves, A Place Called Winter historical fiction described as a novel of forbidden love, secrets and escape and in The Times as a novel ‘written with intelligence and warmth’.

My copy:

  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate 2012
  • ISBN-13: 9780007465088
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating: 5*

 

WWW Wednesday: 19 September 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

East of Eden

I’m still reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It’s the story of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly re-enact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. I’m glad to say that I am now totally absorbed in Steinbeck’s book. Adam and Cathy’s twin sons have been born in appalling circumstances and I have become very fond of the Hamiltons and Lee, Adam’s Chinese servant.

I’ve recently finished:  

The Clockmaker’s Daughter

The Clockmaker’s Daughter due to be published on 20th September 2018. It’s set in the 1860s at Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames where a group of young artists led by Edward Radcliffe are spending the summer and also in 2017 with Elodie, a young archivist in London, who finds a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river. It’s a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss.

I am really not sure what my reaction to this book is. I need to sort out my thoughts before writing my review.

My next book could be:

I have all sorts of ideas about which book to read next and am undecided. It could be any of the books I listed in yesterday’s post or A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. I’ve borrowed this from the library and have already renewed it several times – so I will have to read it soon, or return it unread. I loved his Notes from an Exhibition.

A Perfectly Good Man

Synopsis

Devastatingly moving and full of psychological insight, A PERFECTLY GOOD MAN is a warm, humane Cornish novel from the bestselling author of A PLACE CALLED WINTER

‘A convincing, moving account of man’s struggle with faith, marriage and morality’ Sunday Times

On a clear, crisp summer’s day in Cornwall, a young man carefully prepares to take his own life, and asks family friend, John Barnaby, to pray with him. Barnaby – priest, husband and father – has always tried to do good, though life hasn’t always been rosy. Lenny’s request poses problems, not just for Barnaby, but for his wife and family, and the wider community, as the secrets of the past push themselves forcefully into the present for all to see.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Library Loot

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about my library books. I’m lucky as the mobile library van visits here once a fortnight, stopping nearly outside our house. So, I regularly borrow books both from the van and from the branch library. These are my recent library loans.

First three non fiction books:

Non Fic Lib Bks May 2018

  • Do No Harm by Henry Marsh one of the UK’s foremost neurosurgeons. I first read about this book on BookerTalk’s blog. She wrote: In Do No Harm he offers insight into the joy and despair of a career dedicated to one of the most complex systems in the body. This is a candid account of how it feels to drill into someone’s skull, navigate through a myriad of nerves that control memory, reason, speech and imagination and suck out abnormal growths. I thought it looks interesting, so I reserved the book to read it for myself.
  • And then I saw Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole by Allan H Ropper and B D Burrell sitting on the shelves. I admit that I was drawn to this book by its title on the spine, not realising until I took it off the shelf that this is also a book by a neurosurgeon, Dr Ropper, an American professor at Harvard Medical School. This is a glimpse into the ways our brains can go wrong, how a damaged brain can radically alter our lives.
  • Learn to Sleep Well by Chris Idzikowski. After reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker I thought it would be a good idea to read a book about getting better sleep as I don’t get the average of eight hours of sleep Professor Walker recommends. It’s sub-titled ‘get to sleep and stay asleep overcome sleep problems revitalize body and mind.’

And now the fiction:

Fic Lib Bks May 2018

  • A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale. It is set in Cornwall, about a parish priest Barnaby Johnson. Earlier this year I read Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition and found although this book is not a sequel it has some of the same characters and I want to know more about them.
  • Deadline by Barbara Nadel. I haven’t read any of her other books – this is an Inspector Ikmen Mystery set in Istanbul. I liked the blurb on the back cover – Ikmen is invited to a murder mystery evening at Istanbul’s famous Pera Palas Hotel where he finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of life imitating art. Halfway through the evening, one of the actors is found dead in the room where Agatha Christie used to stay when she was in Istanbul.
  • Sisters by Patricia MacDonald, another new-to-me author, (one of the reasons I like to borrow books is to check out new-to-me authors). This is described on the back cover as a ‘fast-paced novel of psychological suspense‘. Alex Woods is shocked to find out after her parents’ death that she has a sister that her mother had kept a secret from her. She decides to search for her.
  • How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. I’d reserved this one, a book I’ve been thinking of reading for a while. It’s a story of life in a mining community in rural South Wales as Huw Morgan is preparing to leave the valley where he had grown up. He tells of life before the First World War.
  • Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer – see my Friday post for details of the novel and the opening sentences.  I’ve already started reading it. It’s about  Patrick Fort, a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome, studying anatomy and trying to identify the cause of death of a body he is dissecting. I borrowed this book as I loved her first book, Blacklands.