A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale

A Perfectly Good Man is an excellent title for Patrick Gale’s novel because this is a story about “goodness” and “perfection”. But don’t let the morality theme put you off.  This is also a story about a man whose experiences may move you to laughter and tears as his story unfolds.

Set in Penzance, the principal character is parish priest, Father Barnaby Johnson. The story is narrated by Johnson himself as well as by members of his family and community. The timeline is non-linear — which some readers don’t like — but each chapter adds layers to Johnson’s character.

Johnson is certainly “good” — even, perhaps, “perfectly” good — although that is a question for the reader to consider as the story unfolds.

Gale writes beautifully, creating richly imagined characters and rooting them in a believable community and place. If you read his earlier novel, Notes from an Exhibition, you’ll recognise artist Rachel Kelly whose work and daughter Morwenna appear in A Perfectly Good Man.
A Perfectly Good Man begins with the suicide of a young man where Johnson finds himself unexpectedly anointing the victim. It proceeds moving across and back across time, tracing Johnson’s relationships with family and community from his own perspective as well as from the perspective of other characters, before ending with Johnson at age 8. Between those two points lie a lifetime of experience — joys, disappointments, failings, crises of faith. Warm, human, funny, thought-provoking and sad. I loved this novel. It’s left me impatient to read more Patrick Gale.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher via Netgalley for the purpose of this review.

A Rescue Dog and a Delicious Debut from Sara Baume

The title, spill simmer falter wither  (all lower case, no punctuation) makes this debut novel by Sara Baume sound more like a collection of poetry than the rather addictive yarn of Ray, a 57-year old loner, a “boulder of a man”, and his former badger-baiting rescue dog, Oneye. But don’t let the title put you off because while this is certainly an inventive and literary novel, it is also an engaging and rather addictive read.

Neither Ray nor his bad-tempered one-eyed dog is particularly likeable and yet each evokes sympathy so that you find yourself rooting for them as they traverse the seasons, walking, driving and camping out on the beaches and rural roads of Ireland.

Quality of writing marks Sara Baume as one to watch

Then again it’s not the characters or the plot so much as the quality of writing that makes spill simmer falter wither a read to savour. The language used by Sara Baume is inventive and imaginative and her words surprise and delight like a perfectly presented tasting menu.

An original and satisfying read, spill simmer falter wither is published by Tramp Press at €12 (pbk).

[Disclosure: an advance copy was made available by the publisher for the purpose of this review].