A Perfectly Good Man

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  1. Book Review: A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale | Cornish Literature
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Book Review: A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale | Cornish Literature

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A Perfectly Good Man

Patrick Gale. Publisher: Fourth Estate , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. The familiar phrase exemplifies a peculiarly English irony, implying a quality of goodness that falls far short of perfection and yet, at the same time, is acceptably sufficient. It has overtones of the great child psychologist DW Winnicott's famous "good-enough mother" — that is, a mother who fulfils, by and large, the basic needs of her child.

The "perfectly good man" in question is Barnaby Thomas, the priest of a rural parish in Gale's native Cornwall the Cornish countryside and weather is rendered with reassuring authenticity. We follow his life, spiritual and psychological, from his own perspective but also from that of the various characters who are germane to that life: his wife, Dorothy, who against her own preferences is tellingly morphed by her husband into "Dot"; his daughter, Carrie; his adopted Vietnamese son "Jim", who, in the course of the book, elects to return to his native name "Phuc"; and a very creepy parishioner who goes by the name of "Modest Carlsson".

In fact, the novel has quite a bit to say about the process of shifting identities; this parishioner's name has also been subjected to a change, to conceal a former prison sentence for paedophilia. The novel opens, startlingly, with yet another character, the year-old Lenny. Lenny has been paralysed by a rugby accident and is condemned to a life in a wheelchair.


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As a result, he has broken off his engagement to a devoted childhood sweetheart and, when we meet him, is preparing to take his life. Barnaby, who supposes he has been summoned for no more than spiritual counselling for a beleaguered parishioner, finds himself, perforce, a witness to the deed.