Review published on February 26, 2014. Reviewed by Sam Harby
Nudge Reviewer Rating:
Bartholomew Neil is lost and alone. He lacks any real friends, in love with a volunteer at the library he doesn’t dare approach, and his dear mother, who he has lived with all his life, has succumbed to a slow death from cancer, steadily growing less and less herself as dementia takes over her mind to the point she believes her own son is her favourite actor, Richard Gere. As she deteriorates, Bartholomew begins to pretend he is Richard Gere too, and once she dies, Bartholomew turns to writing letters to Richard Gere to cope with his loss, seeming to believe he acts as his guardian angel, and it is these letters reflecting on events that form this novel. As time progresses, he turns to his grief counsellor Wendy and his priest Father McNamee, who publically and sensationally defrocks himself and moves into Bartholomew’s house, as kind of surrogate family. As Wendy convinces Bartholomew to go to group therapy, the man he meets there sets Bertholomew on a path he never expected, and sets into motion a chain of events and revelations Bartholomew never expected.
The Good Luck of Right Now is a truly multi-faceted one and touches on a wide range of themes and issues. On the face of it, the novel could be taken as one of coping with illness, both physical and mental. We see the struggles of Bartholomew as he attempts to cope with his mother’s illness and his escapism by pretending to be Richard Gere, someone he seems to view as vastly more competent than himself, and so suggests one of the many ways people may struggle with caring for the physically and mentally ill. It can also be suggested as a way of Bartholomew to cope with his own issues – Bartholomew’s actions and mannerisms suggest an illness of his own along the lines of autism, and his letters to Richard Gere discussing his problems and his worries and even his escapism into pretending he is Richard Gere again raises questions of how to deal with mental illness, and shows it as a wodespread issue that requires discussion (it is arguable that Bartholomew attempts to keep his problems to himself). Indeed, almost every character in this novel has some issue or secret resulting in some mental illness, and so again demonstrates how widespread the issue is, and more importantly how important it is to discuss and not keep to ourselves.
The Good Luck of Right now also builds on this with the issue of grief and the importance of family, whether blood relations or surrogate. As Bartholomew’s mother leans on Bartholomew to help her through her illness, so too does Bartholomew come to lean on Wendy and Father McNamee to help him understand his grief. As the story progresses, it soon becomes Bartholomew to whom others turn, as already suggested with Father McNamee moving in with Bartholomew. There is a basic need for others through difficult times that is constantly explored throughout this novel, and there is a fundamental poignancy to everyone pulling together to help cope with times of loss, or just difficult times in general. The struggle one feels through difficult times, even if not the loss of a loved one, is one that everyone can relate to, as well as the need for a family or for loved ones in general, and this theme is one of the strongest and most relatable aspects of this novel.
But truly the strongest theme of this novel is the exploration of the basic goodness of people, and the need to constantly look for the positive through everything. Throughout the whole novel, Bartholomew constantly strives to help everyone with their issues despite his own problems, and on occasion despite his not even wanting to. Bartholomew’s interactions with all the other characters of this novel are constantly ones to assist everyone else with their problems in order to help them, and perhaps in doing so help himself. Not only this, there is also the basic philosophy of Bartholomew’s mother, the titular Good Luck of Right Now – that for every negative action in the world, there is a positive somewhere else. It is this philosophy that carries Bartholomew – for everything negative in his life, there must be a positive to balance it. Bartholomew’s constant striving to help others turn their negatives to positives carries a strong message – that people can pull together and turn around any difficult time.
Whilst I would argue that this novel employs its themes and portrays its message exceptionally well, I must admit I did struggle somewhat with the characters themselves. Most of the characters seem written almost as one-trick ponies – while every character does have their own secrets and problems, most of this is not revealed until the very end with little or no suggestion of what this may be (although some of the twists are quite easy to guess). This does strike me as a weakness to the novel, as the characters seem somewhat predictable. However, Bartholomew remains strong throughout, and his letters constantly explore himself and demonstrate his confusion at every turn of events. Bartholomew’s letters again strike a very strong poignant note, and it is extremely easy to relate to and empathise with Bartholomew’s sense of confusion and his attempts to find meaning.
Overall, I do feel that this is a strong novel that explores its themes well and portrays a strong message of community and the need to help those in needs. However, I do feel somewhat disappointed with the majority of characters, but thoroughly enjoyed Bartholomew’s explorations of his sorrow and his journey.
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