An Angel Visits - Paul Wilson

I stayed up late last night (the best opening to a book review) to finish reading Paul Wilson's A Visiting Angel (Tindal Street).

Set in Manchester the main character is Patrick Shepherd, a man who manages The Limes, a type of halfway house/sanctuary for people who've 'fallen down'. It was a role he took up by chance; some would say serendipity, and was taken under the wing of The Limes original pioneering manager, Benedict. A hard-bitten former alcoholic who originated from the Gorbals, like that factual famous Gorbals boy RD 'Ronnie' Laing, Benedict takes a pragmatic yet deeply humane approach to those who wind up in his care, seeing the house as a sanctuary from society - society is not being protected from them but vice versa.

Patrick is as fragile and anxious as those he works with and Wilson slowly and expertly reveals his story, alongside that of the angel of the title, Liam, his older brother whom we are led to believe has just returned from America where he was a successful writer. Other characters tales are woven through, particularly Sarah's, the health advisor of a GUM clinic who we learn lost her 7 year old daughter in a car accident. What it amounts to is an unflinching expose of the frailties that so many of us carry through our lives; the coping mechanisms and the redemption that we seek. It is also a damning indictment of societal structure and how marketised and target driven the 'care industry' has become, to the detriment of all concerned.

It is a beautiful novel, deeply touching. I would also go so far as to say that it should be required reading for all who work in politics and in the care sector. The only criticism I would have is in its sense of place; it is set in Manchester and whilst there are markers, as a native of that city I felt it didn't evoke a strong enough sense of its geography. But I would still give it 5/5 and dearly hope it wins the Portico Prize, which is awarded to literature set in the north. However, if Wilson does achieve that it won't be the first time, having won it in 1997.

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