Sunday, 14 April 2013

80 Books No.26: A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale

It's hard to know quite what to say about this book, but I was loathe to leave it out of these never-ending blog posts as it's actually turned out to be one of the most enjoyable reads I've had so far this year. I didn't quite expect this; whilst I enjoyed the previous Gale book I read, Notes from an Exhibition, it only vaguely sticks in my mind, and the main thing I remember is that I enjoyed it more than my mum did. I bought this one off the strength of the blurb and because it was only £2.

The basic premise is that a young disabled man decides to take his own life, and invites his vicar to (unknowingly) be with him in his final moments. Everything then apparently fractures around this instance and things will never be the same again.

Only that isn't quite what happens. Instead, Gale then takes the story backwards, forwards and sideways in time which can be quite disorientating if you're not paying attention. We hear from the vicar's wife before she met the vicar, the vicar himself aged eight, the vicar's children aged eleven and thirty four, the disabled man aged fifteen, the disabled man's mother before he was born. Each chapter reveals a little more about the interconnected nature of this small village in Cornwall. I really enjoyed getting to know these different characters and to experience Gale's obvious love for the county. There was a sense of sympathy and depth to these characters that I've only found rarely outside of Maeve Binchy novels. Here were some characters I could really get to grips with and understand, and on the whole they were quite nice, which, as I've blogged about before, I like to have in a character.

My one real criticism is one which will probably put a lot of people off reading it: there isn't really a huge amount of plot. I mean, things happen, pretty ordinary every day things, but mainly twenty to thirty years before the novel even begins. To claim that life in the village shatters around the man's decision to kill himself is untrue: things do change but the real earth-shattering secrets never really come to light to the wider community. The ending is convenient and a little bit of a cop out to ensure all remaining characters have a happy ending, but I'm not sure I'd have enjoyed a bleaker ending.

So, one I'd recommend if you like reading about people, but not if you relish high-action and drama.

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