SOMETIMES books arrive with such prodigious word of mouth expectations that they cannot possibly hope to match up to all the preliminary hype.

Then there are books which prove to be quite as impressive as the bush telegraph has suggested: such a novel is Noah Hawley’s The Good Father.

The jacket blurb evokes We Need To Talk About Kevin but this is something different: edgy and confrontational in its treatment of the devastating effects of America’s gun culture but shot through with real emotional heft and featuring characters it is impossible not to care about.

Dr Paul Allen appears to be enjoying everything that society can offer: professional success and a contented family life resulting from his second marriage.

But he is to see his cherished happiness lying in shards when a crowd-pleasing presidential candidate is shot and the gunman appears to be Paul’s much-loved son.

Daniel has always been an unassuming boy and his father is absolutely convinced that he is not capable of murder.

A nightmare journey begins as Paul attempts to make sense of the series of catastrophic events that have destroyed his family and finds to his horror that many of these had something to do with the decisions he made.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is perhaps a fair comparison but the central theme, the extent of a parent’s responsibility for a child’s violent act, is increasingly a focus in literature and is perhaps a sign of the nervousness about such issues on both sides of the Atlantic.

Noah Hawley has added to the debate with a novel which is powerful, involving and full of provocative invective.

There are no cut-and-dried answers; Hawley is too intelligent a writer to force the reader into accepting any banal conclusions.

We become ever more deeply involved with Paul Allen’s attempts to find the truth behind the shooting and to save the life of his son.

America’s National Rifle Association may take exception to the indictments on offer but Hawley suggests Philip Larkin was right about the role parents play in their children’s futures.


by Noah Hawley Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99

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