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on 25 April 2011
I have to say that whilst this book is not a heart-warming tale, a comedy, a page turning thriller, or a detective story, there is something within it's pages which struck a chord with me. From my school days just outside Glasgow, this tale of bigotry brought back memories of how life still is for many people. I've never been a religious person but having witnessed the protestant/catholic divide, albeit in a very diluted form, the story felt vaguely familiar. Well written, it provided an insight into the stark reality of a life that still exists for so many in Scotland. Definitely recommended.
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on 18 June 2011
I struggled with this novel at first. The writing was excellent but the subject matter was depressing as the narrator lets the reader know that events will not turn out well almost from the start. But I kept with it as I sensed that great things were coming.

How right I was. This is an outstanding work written with great sensitivity. I recommend it without reservation.
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on 20 October 2015
This was the first novel by this author that I have read ...I have already ordered more !
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on 2 November 2015
Excellent, though I felt a little self-consciously obscure at times
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on 16 November 2014
Good quality and well presented
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on 26 January 2007
This is a wonderful, compassionate portrait of a man who never overcame early tragedies...the premature deaths of his father and, more significantly, of his lover. It is a story of loss, of denial, and of suppression of sexuality. It would have been easy for O'Hagan to have turned this story into a trite attack on the Catholic Church's attitudes to homosexuality and to celibacy, but his writing is much too subtle for that.

The central character, a priest, is at odds with his past and with his present, a misfit in an impoverished Scottish parish who falls in with a group of raw, underprivileged teenagers. He tries to offer them something from his own rich cultural past - a glimpse of poetry, the beauty of Ailsa Craig and they, in their own way, try to share with him something of their lives - if only an acceptance of him into their confidences.

He steps too far from his role as a priest, and for just one moment the past and his repressed sexuality bubble up, and he crosses the line, just a moment. From then, his life, such as it was, unravels. There is a potent image of his garden of roses, tended by him and his housekeeper, being smashed and destroyed.

Why have I rated it as 4 stars rather than 5? It falls short of being a great novel. It is painted in a water-colour rather than oil....it fell short of fully engaging my emotions. But it's certainly worth reading.
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on 3 October 2006
I found this to be a book of three parts. In the first, O'Hagan introduces us to the main character and narrator, Fr David Anderton, and provides an introduction to his background, his childhood, and his coming to Scotland - including a very real account of the religious bigotry experienced by Fr David at first hand. So far so good, with the narrative building well and the characters taking shape. The middle third, however, was spoiled for me simply because I found that the events depicted - a scholarly and cultured English priest aged 57 running around in the middle of the night in stolen cars, popping Es and drinking cider with a group of juvenile delinquents - were just not credible. The young people themselves also came across as one-dimensional caricatures introduced to prop up a lame narrative, almost like escapees from something by Irvine Welsh. By all means, O'Hagan could have produced a fine novel centred on a priest who falls for a young man and suffers the consequences - but I felt that this could have been treated by a more slow-burn approach involving something more believable, rather than the way the story actually plays out. And then the final third, dealing with topics of death, rebirth, and self-recognition, is exquisite and beautifully narrated.

I was disappointed by this book - a writer as gifted as O'Hagan should have done better and I think he spoiled it (and his MAN Booker chances) by creating a middle section which simply stretches credibility. And one other thing - I didn't think that the feelings recounted by the narrator reflected what a real gay man would have said - I'd be fascinated to hear what someone like Colm Toibin would make of this. Worth a read, all the same.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 28 August 2006
Critics often describe books as 'brave' but Andrew O'Hagan's new novel is one of the few I've read that actually deserves the epithet. The story centres on a catholic priest in a small Scottish town and his growing friendship with a troublesome teenage boy. It's not difficult to guess the outcome of this relationship, but what is unusual and 'brave' about this story is the way widely accepted ideas about child abuse are turned on their head. Here, the adult is arguably the naive innocent and the child is the corrupter. Father David is not an especially likeable character at first; he's somewhat arrogant, pretentious and snobbish, and his capacity for misjudging people and situations almost beggars belief. However, as the novel progresses and we learn something of his history, he emerges as tragic, sympathetic and honest. The liberal ideals of his student days at Oxford in the 'Sixties make a vivid contrast to the heartless, selfish, brutal youths he meets in the present day. This is a book about dashed hopes and lost innocence, and it wrings strong emotions from the reader. I almost flung the book away from me at the injustices of Father David's trial, and the final chapter is so heartbreakingly poignant that I actually shed a few tears. It's been a long while since a novel has moved me so profoundly and lingered in my thoughts for so long after finishing it.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 March 2018
“You think Scotland is a playground for shootin’ and fishin’. You think it’s all f@cken kilts and haggises and crap like that. You think it’s folk songs and single malts and Hogmanay and the f@cken Isle of Skye. Well it’s nothing like that. And it’s no’ hairy-ar@ed warriors wantin’ to die for freedom either.”

O’Hagan tackles some big subjects in here. War, religion and class, as well as ideas of group identity, and ideas of nationhood. He explores the many complex contradictions and conflict that come about when they are put under the microscope.

“’You prefer saints,’ she said. ‘Bless the pope. But he’s much more understanding of celestial bodies than he is of women’s.’”

We see the effects of the enduring power of prejudice and bigotry, the kind that is several generations deep. This book also demonstrates the dangers of ignorance and intolerance and the ways in which prohibition invites excess. We see how so often story and stereotype triumph over truth and fact, because that is what many people want in spite of what they claim.

The protagonist is like a character from an Ian McEwan or Julian Barnes novella dropped into the world of Irvine Welsh. The plotting and dialogue are thoroughly convincing and the scenario is eerily realistic. O’Hagan’s writing flows nicely and there are some lovely passages tucked away in here, building a dark but lovely told picture of deepest, darkest Ayrshire.
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VINE VOICEon 5 March 2011
O'Hagan's Booker listed novel follows the downfall of Father David Anderton. Haunted by a tragic relationship at university he takes over a parish in a remote Ayrshire post-industrial town.

Although born in Scotland Anderton spent much of his life in England and his pompous manner and lack of accent causes distrust amongst the locals. Cared for by his busybody housekeeper Mrs Poole, Anderton listens to music, reads books and in the opinion of his flock neglects his duties.

When teaching a the local school he makes friends with a young couple and sees it as his duty to save/educate them. And it is here that the novel loses some of it's credibility. Anderton is seduced by their rough and ready nature, but this seems at odds with his own character and when he ends up taking ecstacy with the young boy he mistakes friendship for something else and kisses him,

What happens next is right out of News of the World; the disgraced priest is abandoned by the church, insults are painted on his door and the town predictably turns against him.

While the writing is excellent the characterisation is less so. The children are one dimensional chavs and the back story that is intended to explain Anderton's action doesn't quite work. Much of Anderton's actions are against the character that has been created for him by O'Hagan and the reader is left with a feeling that Anderton has brought it all on himself. This could be read as someone tragically falling on his sword, but it just doesn't seem right. Anderton's refusal to admit that he has done any wrong feels inexplicable given his past and as a reader I just felt confused by his motives.

Which is a shame, because Be Near Me contains some lovely writing; there is just a feeling that O'Hagan made Anderton act in a particular way to serve his plot rather than behave in a way that is in line with his character. In the end Anderton comes across as a pompous fool, and I'm sure this wasn't the fullness of what O'Hagan intended.
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