Windmill Books £7.99 Order for £7.59 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop : 08430 600 030

Good to a Fault, By Marina Endicott

Tale of woe soon makes an impact

It is notoriously difficult to write fiction about seriously good people; not innocents or victims – those are relatively easy – but characters who actively strive to be virtuous. One of the reasons the virtuous have often scorned or spurned the reading of novels is that it is so much easier to write about the bad – be they seducers or the corrupted – and certainly much easier to spin entertainment from such material.

Vicars and their congregants routinely appear in either comic or sinister guise. Jane Austen would be horrified at how a nation of readers that continues to revere her morally severe works has come to expect practising Christians to be portrayed as hypocrites or monsters. Virtue doesn't sell.

The Canadian writer Marina Endicott's second novel, Good to a Fault, won a Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and one can see why. It's just as funny and absorbing as her debut, Open Arms. But it takes the risk of placing two virtuous characters at its heart, and taking goodness and its complications as its theme.

The opening is perhaps the fastest thing about it. Clara Purdy is so busy fretting about "herself and the state of her soul" one hot July day that she drives straight into a crowded car as it speeds into a junction. When she insists on accompanying the obviously badly off family to the hospital, the woman turns out to be seriously ill, quite possibly dying, from some form of lymphoma. Learning that the family was more or less reduced to living in the car she has just wrecked, she impulsively does the Christian thing and takes them into her immaculate, childless home.

What ensues is a pleasingly spiky exploration of the limits of forgiveness and tolerance. It is a love story in the particular sense – involving a married priest with domestic and spiritual challenges of his own – and in the general one, involving the bruising extension of Clara's heart to include the children that she guiltily yearns to adopt, and their resolutely unlovable grandmother.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup