The book is about the life and ministry of a very ordinary priest and his family. While revealing to us something of the inner joys and struggles of life in a clergy household, it also deals with the ways in which our birth families shape how we relate to spouses, children and those with whom our children make relationships. It shows what being a partly public figure throughout a lifetime does to family relationships for good and ill and it explores faithfulness, doubt, duty and that illusive sense of transcendence pervading the ordinary.
At one level this is a book about the faithful but unexciting life of a priest and yet it deals with themes which bring us to the edge of some of the greatest and deepest dramas of life and death. This is its brilliance - Gale somehow manages to show what difference a perfectly ordinary priest can make in the tangle of human life. Sometimes his actions make very little difference, occasionally his actions or his presence make a great deal of difference, sometimes the very little he does (maybe simply praying) make all the world of difference. Every priest will identify with this. And this unexceptional man encounters on his way still birth, adoption of a child from another culture, the suicide of a disabled person, illegitimacy, political action, drug abuse, disinheritance, retirement, bereavement, civil marriage, his own arrest, media pressure and issues to do with the way in which people with criminal records and inadequacies look to the local church for support and inclusion.
A Perfectly Good Man Patrick Gale, Fourth Estate, Harper Collins 2012.