I love Patrick Gale. I just do. I have done ever since picking up Rough Music on the off chance. His more recent novels have tended towards the more intimate and elegant, easily devoured in one glorious sitting. This absolute gem of a novel incorporates characters from one of his most widely read chamber pieces, but it also veers towards the scope of his earlier stuff.
Undoubtedly inspired by the awful true story of Daniel James, A Perfectly Good Man focuses on the impact of a young man’s suicide on his close knit community. Lenny Barnes is just 20 years old but after being paralysed in a rugby accident, decides to end his life. He calls on local priest Barnaby Thomas, who administers the last rites and is briefly arrested on suspicion of assisting a suicide.
The neat trick Gale employs with his narrative is to jump around between viewpoints and eras, but the only clue the reader has as to where they are is with the chapter heading. We have “Lenny at 20” and “Barnaby at 53” and so on. Also afforded viewpoints are Barnaby’s wife and children (for he is undoubtedly the man of the title), Lenny’s mother and fiancée, and a creepy parishioner named Modest Carlsson. This works absolutely beautifully, allowing the full tangled web of relationships to slowly come into focus. The emotional pay off Gale achieves is astonishing.
So, I loved this book and I still love Patrick Gale. If you haven’t read anything of his before, then start immediately. Read Notes From an Exhibition first. Then this. Then EVERYTHING ELSE.