Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Event: Patrick Gale 4th September

 Last night we had a return visit from the wonderful Patrick Gale to discuss his latest book A Perfectly Good Man. Patrick explained that it had been conceived as a companion piece to his earlier book Notes on an Exhibition. The central idea of that book was of the difficulty in growing up with a mother who was a mad genius, and in A Perfectly Good Man the madness is on the father’s side.

Barnaby Johnson, the central character, is not just a priest; he is a man who has devoted his life to being as good as he possibly can and inevitably that flows over onto his wife and children.

It’s a kind of moral thriller. At the beginning of the novel when Barnaby prays for the dying Lenny’s soul instead of calling an ambulance, it leads to his having to justify his actions as well as the power of prayer at the inquest, which shows bravery in an age where priests are considered as mere social workers. But Barnaby stands up for what it’s really about.

On another level it’s also a thriller because of a frightening stalker, Modest Carlsson who seems to be excited by death and whose main aim in life is to destroy the “good” Barnaby. Gale told us that he wanted to write about a person who doesn’t realise how his actions affect others.

Patrick regaled us with some humorous stories, saying that the character of Carlsson was based on a woman he had worked with and who displayed many of the traits described in Carlsson. He explained that he has become a spokesperson for the Quakers since Notes on an Exhibition was published, despite not being a Quaker himself, and that he had appeared twice on the cover of a church magazine, much to his very religious mother’s delight!

Patrick Gale described how he wanted to have the book spiralling backwards into Barnaby’s roots and troubled teens and childhood to find out what the answer to his need to be “good” might be. So the book moves in two directions at once (as did Notes on an Exhibition) and he wanted each chapter to feel as contained as a short story.

In the end the novel is about much more than religion. It’s really about family as most of Gale’s books are, and about the dynamics of the family. Gale revealed that his next novel would continue this theme of family in a more personal way since receiving some letters written between his mother and grandmother in the 1950’s concerning a family mystery.

We await his next offering with baited breath!

- Jane

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