The Good Father by Noah Hawley

“I have just finished reading ‘The Good Father’. Tears are pricking my eyes; I picked up my pen and scrawled into the nearest notebook. I want to capture the emotion conjured up in me as my eyes rest of the final words of Hawley’s novel. The way I ache inside. The way I feel a heavy swelling in my throat. I wanted to capture and convey it to you, because words which have the power to transport you to a place inside yourself only usually visited in extreme emotion, for words to do that to a person, is a true feat.”

I wrote the above in a flurry of emotion. The tenses are all over the place but I thought it was important to include it in a review. Noah Hawley’s ‘The Good Father’ simply implored me to do it. And I thought you should see it.

In the simplest terms, the novel chronicles the story of Dr.Paul Allen as he comes to terms with the conviction of his son as the murderer of the next President of the USA. I don’t want to tell you any more, plot-wise, because the book unfolds and reveals itself so elegantly and in such a balanced manner that telling you more might steal something from it. And I want you to experience everything that I did with this book.

I started reading it last week; I was quite enjoying it, I wanted to know what had happened but it wasn’t keeping me awake at night. I remember feeling a little bit like issues were being shoved in my face: divorce, the nature/nurture conflict, the doctor/investigator analogy. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. But then slowly, its roots began creeping under my skin. I found myself avidly turning the pages, unwilling to put it down. I was half way through last night and this morning I am finished.

Now I am done, and I feel so content, so satisfied that somebody has addressed issues which underlie our society but are so often sidelined, in such an engaging manner. Hawley’s characterisation is something to be marvelled at; the way he takes his characters with huge flaws tearing through them and makes them likeable, makes us understand; the way he probes the culmination of genetics, of trauma, of love, life and everything, and builds it into one defining act: the sum of all that you have been. He takes a look at the justice system, at the inevitable grey areas  of trials, mental health and the death penalty. He talks you through parenting, the responsibilities, the burden, the blame. The love.

Somehow Hawley has packaged each of these moral dilemmas into a story and handed it to us in just less that 400 pages. There is no resolution. The issues cannot be black and white. As I shut the book, though, I felt a calm, sad understanding. Any great story has a powerful message to send and there is no denying the power carried by the words in this book. This is a remarkable piece of modern literature, engaging, beautiful and devastating. I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend it.


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