Mr Golightly's Holiday By Salley Vickers

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The Independent Culture

Worry not, dear reader - no surprises are spoilt as this review announces that the titular hero of Vickers' latest novel is God. Along with some very heavy clues very early on, the book carries flyleaf definitions of holiday (literally, "holy day") and quotations from illustrious writers praising Vickers' "daring" in tackling her latest subject.

And a very post-modern subject He is too in Vickers' hands. God - or Mr Golightly - is an unremarkable middle-aged man who has "come to place more confidence in truths than truth" since the death of his only son (one who "had been called meek"), and who self-consciously questions his role as a creator. He has arrived in the village of Great Carne to pen a sequel to his one great work written many years ago (yes, the Bible), but finds he does not know enough about human nature to write about it. One day, watching television soap operas, he marvels at their characters and decides to adopt their craft.

But Mr Golightly struggles to find some creative time to himself, caught up as he is in the lives of the real human beings around him. Young tearaway Johnny Spence hides under his van and Luke Weatherall, a local poet, badgers him for artistic assistance. He becomes distracted by the beauty of young Mary Simms, who has fallen for Luke, and drawn into the suicidal sorrows of newly widowed Ellen Thomas. Has- been film director Sam Noble entices him into his new writing group and local barmaid Paula tries to flirt with him. Yes, even the names of her characters give Vickers' hero's identity away, surrounded as he is by John, Luke, Mary, Samuel, a feminised Paul and even a "doubting" Thomas.

But Vickers has greater things in her sights beyond giving God a lesson in human fallibility. Her God is also fallible - he has lost sight of his creations, of what makes them human, and on this holiday he will learn what it is "to push the question back a stage - where, if he had any, had his own understanding come from?" He is a damaged God, who has lost his only son and needs to understand why that son sacrificed himself for humanity.

In anyone else's hands, this novel might become a dreary sermon espousing Christian values or a flippant dismissal of religion altogether. But Vickers is smart, her touch is light and comedic, and both the philosophical questions she raises about truth and fiction (a conversation between Mr Golightly and the devil has the devil saying of Eve, "I merely gave her another interpretation - an alternative version of the story you had told her") and the characters she brings to life to symbolise those questions, are stimulating and convincing. If there is any criticism, it is that perhaps she does not delve deep enough into the darker side of human nature. But that is not Vickers' way - as the novel's dedication to her father, who "taught her the charm of the comic perspective", tells us. And Mr Golightly's Holiday is full of such charm.