Book reviews, Costa Book Awards, Drama, General book stuff

Review: The Good Guy

The Good Guy is the debut novel from Susan Beale and it’s up for the new novel prize in this year’s Costa Book Awards. It’s the second book from the category I’ve read in my challenge to read all nominated titles before the prizes are announced on 3 January.

The Good Guy

What’s it about?

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Ted, a car-tyre salesman in 1960s suburban New England, is a dreamer who craves admiration. His wife, Abigail, longs for a life of the mind. Single-girl Penny just wants to be loved. When a chance encounter brings Ted and Penny together, he becomes enamoured and begins inventing a whole new life with her at its centre. But when this fantasy collides with reality, the fallout threatens everything, and everyone, he holds dear.

The Good Guy is a deeply compelling debut about love, marriage and what happens when good intentions and self-deception are taken to extremes.

What’s good about it?

The Good Guy is a very strong debut and a novel that kept me gripped to the very end.

Beale is exceptional at creating believable characters that evoke genuine sympathy and scorn in equal measure. Ted, the eponymous good guy and villain of the piece, is well-rounded despite his obvious flaws and boundless weaknesses. His good intentions were outlined without venturing into martyrdom, and his underlying insecurities were subtly revealed throughout the narrative without ever feeling heavy handed or excuse-laden.

The women of this book are extremely interesting. In Abigail and Penny, Beale presents two women at opposing ends of a familiarly patriarchal predicament of the 1960s: both are trapped by the fear of social unacceptability – on sexual, professional, financial and familial terms. It was encouraging – and way more engaging – that Beale didn’t paint either as a caricature of the angel and the whore, the nagging wife and the seductive mistress, the prim mother and the adventurous single girl. Sure, there are elements of those features in their characters but they are so much more than that, and the endings they both achieve satisfied my abiding feminist angst.

What’s not so good about it?

I really liked this book so I have little to criticise.

This subject has been explored many times over in film, TV and books – anyone whose read Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road (or seen the film) or watched an episode of Mad Men will be accustomed to the sexual and social politics of 1960s marital – and extra-marital – relationships. However, I think Beale brings enough unique insight and characterisation to this subject to refresh it, providing a nuanced tale that looks again at this complex and compelling scenario.

I would have liked to have read more about Abigail’s life later in the book. I loved the conclusion of her story (I won’t give it away but it’s a fitting end for character) but wanted to hear her development first hand rather than via Ted’s narrative. Perhaps Beale could revisit this intriguing character and explore her adventures in a sequel to this striking debut novel.

This is a brilliant book and an even more impressive debut. It’s definitely a strong contender for the new novel prize in my book.

 

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