A perfectly good man


"Please don't feel you always have to be good," eight-year-old Barnaby Johnson is advised, on what is almost the final page of Patrick Gale's new novel. 

"Sometimes you're so good it hurts to watch you."

Wise words, but in the book – which spans the English parish priest's life from youth to late middle age – they go largely unheeded. 

Gale is especially acute when it comes to the shifting dynamic of marriage, and noticeably astute and unsparing about parenting, the easy joy, the helplessness, the weary despair. 

In a scene that continued to bother me long after I'd read it, Barnaby and Dot's adopted son, supposedly in rehab but in fact whacked-out on amphetamines, graffitis "F*** Jesus" on the church in red gloss. 

His parents assuage their shock and grief by calmly painting it over with whitewash, listening to a Prom on the radio, eating fish and chips and enjoying a moonlit walk while the emulsion dries.


A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale (The Guardian)