38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
An unfolding tragedy, with grace along the way,
This review is from: Be Near Me (Paperback)
A moving story is at the heart of this book, but it is the portrayals of its main characters and their inter-actions which are its main strengths. The story concerns an English Roman Catholic priest, David Anderton, who moves to a parish in Scotland, where old sectarian tensions live on into the present day. Anderton experiences prejudice from his Protestant neighbours, but never quite connects with his own parishioners - hardly surprising in view of his love of old English roses and fine wines. The only successful relationship he maintains is with his house-keeper, Mrs Poole, and there is some fine dialogue in the chapters where their verbal sparring predominates, and where later they have to deal with difficult issues.
Anderton eventually extends his ministry among the local youth, and the writer captures the dangerous carelessness of the relationships that develop as Anderton moves into a world in which he could never participate without taking risk bordering on recklessness. The writer exactly describes how a lonely, almost isolated life can lead to the taking of any opportunities for human contact however dubious the company.
Indeed, Andrew O'Hagan has shown in David Anderton, the basic immaturity and childlikeness of many celibates. Anderton went to a Benedictine boarding school, then on to Oxford University and later seminary in Rome, and never had to deal with the challenges faced by those he had to minister too, his main interests being good food, wine and reading - hardly the staple interests of the working class Parish he was called to. When his housekeeper falls ill with cancer, it is the passages in which this is discussed which show Anderton's failings. His attempts to trivialise the illness and offer a spurious hope are rebuffed with words from Mrs Poole which would shame any priest. However, O'Hagan shows a huge amount of grace comes Anderton's way, mainly through his mother, his house-keeper and O'Hagan helps us see that no crime is quite as straightforward (or perhaps as dreadful) as it as first seems.
Several scenes have the quality of intense drama, as though the reader is watching a stage-play, the world around him momentarily silent as the action unfolds. The pace of the book is just right: periods of narrative are interspersed with reflective looks back on the life of David Anderton, which help illuminate the present dramas. The latter half of the book is like an accident waiting to happen: the reader knows where Anderton's path is leading him, and can him making the mistakes along the way which lead to the inevitable disaster.
The book is finely written and has the mark of quality. Anyone who likes good prose will enjoy reading it and feel at the end that the experience was well worth while.