Lenny, twenty and recently paralysed, commits suicide in the presence of his parish priest who, rather than seeking help, chooses to administer the last rites.
Gale hops between the different characters (always narrating in the third person, in the past tense, as a reporter on them so at a slightly removed psychic distance) and backwards and forwards in time. This is the same bricolage-like technique that he used in Notes From An Exhibition (and indeed, some of the characters from that book reappear in this one, mostly as walk-on parts). This enables the reader to piece together what is happening whilst allowing Gale to control the information he is giving. Thus, for example, a key revelation occurs at exactly half-way through: this acts as a turning-point, changing one's understanding of the title character: Father Barnaby.
It was also written so that the hero, Barnaby, and the villain, Modest, both make essentially the same mistake (almost at the same age) and yet their trajectories are quite different.
A beautifully paced book, exploring the nature of goodness through some very different, perfectly drawn, characters.
Some brilliant moments include:
- "Adolescence was about discovering and flexing one's power over others, or learning to compensate for the lack of it." (Modest Carlson at 39)
- "It was high summer, the sort of sticky August weather that brought out the crudest in everyone. Men paraded in nothing but Union Jack shorts. Every child seemed fractious and smeared with ice cream. Pubs spilled threateningly onto the pavements around them and the streets reeked of grilling, sweat and onions." (Modest Carlson at 39)
- "He was ... like a considerate child who had begun performing a magic trick only to discover that the magic was real and possibly dangerous." (Modest Carlson at 39)
- "It was like a fairground ride Jim had persuaded them all onto once, a kind of revolving circular room where the floor slowly fell away from under one's feet but centrifugal force held one stupefied in place against its whirling walls. Faith fell away and, surprise surprise, the world didn't end. Everything simply lost its meaning and savour and people looked increasingly dull and stupid." (Barnaby at 40) A beautiful analogy although the former physics teacher in me will insist that there is no such thing as centrifugal force; Gale means centripetal force.
- "His having been hopeless with money was, in some ways, a myth to mask a sort of high standards alcoholism." (Barnaby at 29)
- "There was no God. There was simply life followed at some entirely random point by death. There was, in fact, simply stuff and time. Nothing more. And the excitement, the beauty even of it was that stuff and time were still amazing." (Jim at 12)
- "She was claimed by a gang of girls right after class. This was inevitable because she was new and pretty and he'd noticed how girls liked to collect girls who raised their own currency." (Lenny at 14 3/4)
- "Veganism is time-consuming. If you go vegan on me, you're learning to cook." (Lenny at 14 3/4)
- "Mothers were so glib about saying, 'oh, I'd give him my kidney' or 'oh I'd die for him, no question' but how many would by ready to reach for a smothering pillow or merciful syringe?" (Nuala at 56)
- "His body was like the statues around Uncle James's garden, only with all its limbs." (Barnaby at 8)
- "He hated making scenes or losing his temper. It was like running up a flight of stairs to find only a blank wall in the way; the only option was an ignominious return." (Barnaby at 8)
A thoughtful exploration of what it means to be human. February 2021;404 pages
Patrick Gale also wrote Kansas in August
|This review was written by|
the author of Motherdarling