Charming romance novel set in LONDON
A Perfectly Good Man
There’s a particular strain of English mildness that carries within it a finely wrought undercurrent of viciousness. It’s there in the title of Patrick Gale’s new novel, A Perfectly Good Man, which you could either take literally – that Barnaby Johnson, priest to the Cornish parish of Pendeen, is perfect in his goodness – or as a tight-lipped rebuke, that he is adequate at best.
As if to harry us into taking one of these positions, the novel kicks off with what is, for this writer, something of a shock opening. Barnaby is visiting a parishioner, 20-year-old Lenny, who is confined to a wheelchair following a rugby injury. Lenny doesn’t want him there for a chat: he wants him there while he kills himself, drinking a sedative bought on the internet. The “goodness” of Barnaby’s behaviour, calmly administering extreme unction rather than scrambling for the telephone, is left deliberately ambiguous. It’s a foolish reader of Gale’s novels who rushes to judge one of his characters: the careful management of our sympathies is what he is all about.
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