‘Wilson is one of a number of writers who really should be making the Booker shortlist on a regular basis but for some reason escapes the attention of the judges’ – The Visiting Angel by Paul Wilson

There are two Paul Wilsons that you might find in your local bookshop. One of them specialises in small books about calm (The Little Book of Calm, The Little Book of Calm at Work, The Really Small Book of Calm, The Book of Calm So Small you Can Fit it up your Nose) and the one we are dealing with today.

So very quickly, in case any new-agers are reading this review in error, and they really need some CalmTM: “Pretend you are a sapling. Feel the breeze in your branches. Imagine what a mighty tree you will become.”

Better now? Good. Off you pop then. The rest of us have got a book to discuss.

Paul Wilson’s work often deals with people on the edge of society. The weak, the nervous, those who have needed the support of drop-in centres and mental healthcare, products of care homes and asylums. This is partly due to Wilson’s work outside of writing (he has worked in a range of social care settings) but he uses his experience to add verisimilitude to his work rather than to provide plotlines.

In The Visiting Angel, Patrick Shepherd finds himself face-to-face with his brother who he thought was dead and who now claims to be an angel called Saul. The plot develops in the present and also in a series of flashbacks to the brother’s childhood, first with their mother and then in care.

As in previous novels such as Noah, Noah and Someone to Watch over Me, Wilson creates characters that are both sympathetic and believable. He does not soften the pill though. He does not offer easy answers. He chronicles. He observes. Wilson is not a Dickens or a Zola, he creates fiction from, and not about, those left behind by society. This is fiction, not preaching.

Very good fiction it is too. Wilson is one of a number of writers who really should be making the Booker shortlist on a regular basis but for some reason escapes the attention of the judges. His prose is clean and assured. He writes about people not caricatures. He is serious without being obscure or difficult. He is that golden-egg of publishing at the moment; a potential literary-bestseller; who deserves his place on the top table with McEwan, Barnes, and the like.

Wilson has been called a Lancashire Garcia Marquez but this is perhaps stretching a point too far. Wilson uses biblical references and ambiguity in his work to create a world that is on the edge of what we call reality, but for his characters this blurring of possibility is as real as anything else in their lives. Wilson is not dealing with myths and legends but with reality as it is seen by these characters. He is mapping a new world, or, more accurately, mapping a too often ignored view of this world. He gives voices to the forgotten and the bureaucratically shelved.

Any Cop?: Yes. Lancashire probably does not need a Marquez, but it does need Wilson. This should be the book that shows that Britain needs him too.

Benjamin Judge

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