four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
user_rating: 
0

A-Be Near MeWhen Scottish-born David Anderton, a Catholic priest, becomes pastor of a church in a small town outside Glasgow, the troubles that have plagued his life "in a thousand places" persist. He is an outsider here, and the townspeople distrust his Oxford education, sophistication, and privileged past. In a desperate desire to connect to his new community, David, beset by his own private demons, befriends two rebellious teenagers, Mark and Lisa. But he soon oversteps his boundaries when he takes his friendship with Mark in a dangerous, fateful direction in a town that has always been suspicious of strangers and their pasts.
Harcourt. 305 pages. $24. ISBN: 0151013039

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"Will [Anderton] choose God, or will he choose to keep his job? That’s the ultimate question informing this narrative. The startling answer suggests the measure of the man as well as the depth and breadth of this extraordinary novel." Diane Scharper

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"A novel of great beauty as well as one with a deep understanding of religious faith, sexual longing and the truly sordid public, as opposed to private, passions that frequently debase contemporary life. … The story of Anderton’s fateful, drunken encounter with Mark is deftly framed first by the narrator’s memories of his youth and family, and then his halcyon days at Oxford." Paul Baumann

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"O’Hagan may have snatched the subject from today’s headlines, but with remarkable skill he turns potential tabloid fare on its head: The priest is a sympathetic figure and numbers among the more honorable characters in the novel, even in his fall from grace." Art Winslow

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Andrew O’Hagan is a writer of rare talent. … It’s to O’Hagan’s credit that in spite of a plot that bustles with worldly privations, he has given us a novel that allows us rewarding peeks into the inner lives of its characters." Vikram Johri

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Another longish chapter in the second half of the novel recounts David’s coming of age in the 1960s, protesting the Vietnam War and loving and losing another young man in the process. Here, too, the material is interesting and grounds the surrounding story in this early tragedy, but it goes on too long and reeks slightly of cliche." Dan Zigmond

Critical Summary

Although Andrew O’Hagan’s third novel touches on themes of sexual misconduct, it focuses more on loyalty, friendship, love, longing, and morality—even touching on the rebellious 1960s and the war in Iraq. Critics agree that O’Hagan paints a masterful portrait of Dalgarnock life, successfully contrasting its provincial, small-town nature with David’s complicated past and deep inner spirituality. Sympathetic characters, from the idealistic, despairing David to his housekeeper, Mrs. Poole, captivated critics, as David experiences—and is tested by—his ordeal. In sum, Be Near Me, which was long-listed for the Booker Prize, is a "resounding achievement" (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).