Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Good Father - Noah Hawley

Dr Paul Allen has a very successful professional life and a happy family at home. Married to second wife Fran, he lives in a nice house in the suburbs with their twin sons, spending his days in a hard-earned top job as chief of rheumatology at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. One Thursday evening, just like any other, they are all at home, making dinner and preparing to settle down for the evening, to eat pizza and watch TV, when there is an alarming newsflash. Jay Seagram, a Democratic senator and the popular front-runner for President in the forthcoming elections, has been shot whilst giving a speech in Los Angeles. And the horrifying, astonishing revelation for an incredulous Paul is that the man who has been arrested for this crime is his boy Danny, his son from his first marriage.

The premise of this novel, with such a compelling storyline in the offing, promises much. So, does it live up to its promise? For me, yes it does, and more. It's as intense a read as the synopsis suggests. This is a psychological portrait of a father driven to his absolute limit in his efforts to try and account for why his son has acted in this awful way, how did Danny become this person? What did Paul do, or fail to do, that has resulted in his little boy becoming the adult that he is? Paul begins to look back and question his every action and decision in an attempt to get inside his son's thoughts and belatedly try and understand his boy. He divorced first wife Ellen, initially planning to leave a then eight-year-old Danny with her on the West Coast only temporarily. His new life took shape however, and he remained in New York, seeing Danny only during the holidays. He recalls incidents in Danny's life as he grew up, wondering if this one or that one could have been the experience that changed him and led to him acting this way. But ultimately Paul refuses to believe that Danny is guilty of what he has been accused, and battles to uncover any secret that may prove otherwise.

I sympathised deeply with Paul; his every waking moment has become riddled with the obsession of where he has gone wrong as a father, what was behind his son's behaviour, was it really Danny who in fact committed this crime, can Paul prove otherwise? Even when the family try to make a fresh start, his need to pursue the case becomes like a drug addiction; he cannot leave it alone, even if he tells his family he will put it behind him, it's his dirty secret. His family all has to face the public outrage and hatred for this heinous crime; their friends, and the whole country have been deprived of the great hope for a new future which Senator Seagram had come to represent. The novel also raises again the thorny question of access to guns and the right to bear arms. The ease of acquiring a firearm is all too evident here. The writer conveys a picture of America today, of hope and the reality behind that hope.

And whilst Paul deals with the aftermath, what do we learn of Danny in the run up to the shooting? The author depicts Danny as a lonely lost soul, a quiet boy lacking any real direction in his life, he drops out of college and starts travelling around the country, never staying anywhere more than a few months. What can be done to bring someone like him back into society? Is it the fault of his parents? Is Paul to blame? Slowly, piece by piece, some of Danny's recent experiences and journeys are revealed to us throughout the story, these chapters strewn within the main account of Paul's thoughts and behaviour. What leads anyone to commit such an act? The novel also contains sections briefly recalling the accounts of other assassinations and atrocities in America's recent past, and of the men behind them. 

This all adds up to create an intensely powerful book that is gripping from start to finish, and is beautifully written. It offers a fascinating, absorbing and intimate portrayal of a successful, intelligent and fundamentally good man who is forced to re-examine his whole behaviour as a father in the light of one dreadful action. 


Reviewed for amazon vine UK.
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 29th March 2012.


  1. Wow - this sounds like one to watch for. Great, comprehensive review!

  2. Thanks Dana, I was blown away by this book. x


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