UK Christian Bookshops Directory: Christian Book Reviews: Be Near Me
Be Near Me Be Near Me

Andrew O'Hagan
ISBN 9780571216048 (0571216048)
Faber & Faber, 2007

Category: Fiction
Subcategory: General

This is a deeply disturbing book. Andrew O'Hagan writes smoothly, seemingly effortlessly: his first novel, Our Fathers, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and he went on to win the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his next novel, Personality.

Here, for his third novel, he applies his skills to the case of a Roman Catholic priest, Father David Anderton. Written in the first person, Father David tells us his story, switching back and forth between his present situation and the circumstances that brought him there. It's a convincing, disarmingly enigmatic portrait of a man who has lost his way, struggling more to discover his own identity than to help his parishioners discover theirs.

Father David shows himself to be something of a hedonist with a convoluted guilt complex and very little idea of how to relate to other people; and in particular, it seems, no idea of how the relationship he allows to develop — even pursues, although it isn't entirely clear who is pursuing whom — with one teenage boy will ultimately be perceived by those outside the relationship as his life spirals out of control.

In exploring Father David's life O'Hagan opens a Pandora's Box of anti-gay and anti-Roman Catholic prejudice and hypocrisy amongst the people — a largely working class nominally Protestant community with high unemployment — alongside a hypocrisy within the Roman Catholic hierarchy that seems more concerned about about protecting its own and its image than about setting things right: the Bishop steps in, ready to cover things up, but Father David seems to discover a sense of integrity and refuses the offer...

Overall, a very, very disturbing tale as O'Hagan gets into his character's mind. I found myself drawn in, a sympathy developing for Father David alongside my sense of bewilderment/outrage/confusion — a story worth reading as much for the quality of the writing as for the questions it throws up about morality and integrity: who is right, who is wrong and how do we decide?

Phil Groom, May 2007

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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