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.