Monday, May 10, 2010

Be Near Me

by Andrew O'Hagan

After a slow start, this haunting book really pulls the reader into the morass of the protagonist's existential angst. Which sounds bad, but it can be delicious agony when executed properly. In part because of the hint of intergenerational romance, but mostly because of the emotional timbre of desperate yearning, Be Near Me reminds me of Call Me by Your Name. The skillful vivisection of a mind twisted by self-alienation puts me in mind of novels by Edward St. Aubyn, and likewise reminds one of the raw and unflinching interiority of Virginia Woolf's best work.

This book would stand up to re-reading in the future, and the writing is that sort which induces repeated re-reading and relishing of particular passages. I almost don't want to tell you the story is about a Scottish priest, for fear it will put you off as it nearly did me. His being a priest is somehow essential and immaterial at the same time, such that there's little enough religion and very little that a religious adherent would recognize as spiritual.

Like a cigarette (according to Oscar Wilde), it is exquisite and it leaves one unsatisfied. This book would be a serious contender for Top 10 status, but 10 is such a small number compared to the millions of books in the world and the thousands I've read; without diminishing it's greatness, I think it's more likely in a four-way tie for a rank in the upper teens or twenties.

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