Review: Good To A Fault by Marina Endicott

Title: Good To A Fault

Author: Marina Endicott

Published: Allen & Unwin Australia 2011

Synopsis: Absorbed in her own failings, Clara Purdy crashes her life into a sharp left turn, taking the young family in the other car along with her. When bruises on the mother, Lorraine, prove to be late-stage cancer, Clara – against all habit and comfort – moves the three children and their terrible grandmother into her own house. We know what is good, but we don’t do it. In Good to a Fault, Clara decides to give it a try, and then has to cope with the consequences: exhaustion, fury, hilarity, and unexpected love. But she must question her own motives. Is she acting out of true goodness, or out of guilt? Most shamefully, has she taken over simply because she wants the baby for her own?

Status: Read from October 31 to November 03, 2011 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

When Clara Purdy is involved in a minor car accident, is it a mix of misplaced guilt and personal dissatisfaction, or simply an altruistic wish to help someone less fortunate, that prompts her to take in and care for the homeless Gage family? Good To A Fault is a thought provoking novel that examines some intriguing moral and social questions.
After years of dutifully caring for her parents, 43 year old Clara discovers that she is dissatisfied with the emptiness of her life but is at a loss to know how to change it. The collision prompts her to open her heart and her home to the homeless Gage family but the situation grows more complex when Lorraine is diagnosed with late stage Lymphoma. What was a temporary impulse to help the family get back on it’s feet becomes a daunting responsibility when Lorraine must remain in hospital for treatment and her husband Clayton abandons his family to Clara’s care. Clara finds she is unable to, nor wants to, leave the fate of the family to social services and so chooses to keep the three children, Dolly, Trevor and Pearce and their grandmother, Mrs Pell with her. While Clara fleetingly regrets her impetuous decision she finds that she enjoys caring for the children, and with their father gone, their grandmother indifferent and Lorraine desperately ill, Clara begins to fantasise about keeping them to raise as her own. Endicott so deftly explores the blurring of the line between altruism and egotism, when the desire to help someone else becomes a means to satisfy your own needs is it still the right thing to do? As the reader you can not help but consider what choices you would make in the same situations. I like to think I would do everything possible but I think if tested, uncomfortably, my generosity would have limits.
Good at Fault is not only a thematically rich novel but is also populated with interesting, authentic characters who evoke compassion, distaste, love and resentment.
One of the biggest struggles for me was the inherent conflict between Lorraine and Clara. Lorraine is desperately ill, she has no resources to help herself or her family, yet she is nothing if not practical and so she is willing to take Clary’s offer of help. It’s not so much a matter of taking advantage but more taking what is available and making the most of the opportunity to ensure her children are cared for. I sympathise with her motives, I can not imagine being so isolated at a time when need was greatest, still as Clary’s attachment to the children grows I, like Clary, begin to resent Lorraine’s claim. After all Clary offered the children opportunities and a level of care Lorraine can’t but, and it is a huge but, Lorraine is their mother and she does love her children, she just simply can’t shower them with the trappings that a middle class mentality consider to be indicators of good parenting. This thread really challenged my thinking and honestly, I felt ashamed that even if for only a moment, I felt Clary deserved the children more than Lorraine.
Good At Fault engages the reader in both an internal and social debate about a wide range of issues and I think it would be an ideal read for a book club. While I felt it dragged a little in places, it provokes thought and emotion and I found myself ruminating on it long after I had put it down. A compelling read, Good At Fault is a wonderful novel.

I was invited to tag along on a discussion of this title by Mari at Bookworm with a View and Judith at Leeswammes Blog posted late last month, so here are my answers to some of the questions they asked.

Mari asks: The husband’s reaction from the car accident to the Cancer diagnosis was unsettling.  Did your opinion of him change from the beginning to the end of the novel?

Clayton’s decision to abandon his wife and family riled me and after his theft from Clara I was prepared to write him off completely however I was genuinely surprised that even though he  absented himself from the immediate situation it is later revealed was making some attempt to meet his family’s needs. I still considered him as unreliable at the end of the novel as at the beginning but I disliked him less.

Judith asks: What did you think of the reverend, what was his role in the book? Did you notice how he lost some of his faith straight after the break up with his wife but later gained it again (or do I see this wrongly)?

I think the Reverend had a role in exploring the notion of ‘goodness’ in terms of religion. His actions are ‘good’ but performed out of duty and responsibility rather than genuine desire so if his intent is not to do good but do as expected, which is to be good, who does his actions serve? I think his faith wavered because he discovered that a life of self sacrifice and ‘goodness’ was no guarantee of fulfillment, and he needed to be a little selfish sometimes to be able to give of himself to others.

Judith: And what about Darwin, Lorraine’s brother? Why was he introduced as a drunk but then later helped out so brilliantly?

Darwin had a sincere desire to help without the need to sacrifice himself on an altar of martyrdom. I think he was introduced as a drunk to make the point that people can do ‘bad’ things but still be ‘good’ people. He saw a need, he had the ability and he filled it, he recognised his limitations (in that he couldn’t take custody of the children) but didn’t let them become a source of shame. He did what good he could and considered that enough.

Mari asks: Did you like how the story ended?

I did actually, I think it’s a conclusion that is both satisfying yet true to the complicated situation and relationships the novel explores.

Make sure you visit Mari at Bookworm with a View and Judith at Leeswammes Blog  to read their reviews.

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Leeswammes
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 07:27:08

    Shelleyrae, this is an absolutely brilliant review and I’m jealous that I could not state my thoughts so well. And furthermore, you had some great insights that I had not considered. Like my question about the Reverend and about Darwin, I think you’re totally right. I missed making those connections.

    I’m such a shallow reader! Thanks for answering these questions for me. I was genuinely wondering and could not work it out.



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Nov 11, 2011 @ 11:55:47

      Aww thanks Judith – I don’t think you are a shallow reader at all! Thanks for letting me tag along on the conversation 🙂



  2. laurelrainsnow
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 09:26:24

    Oh, now I’m adding this book to my list! I was intrigued before…now I must have it!



  3. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 09:39:16

    This one looks Marvellous, Shelleyrae. I’ve noted it down to see if I can review it for Australian Women Online–it’s always great to discover an Aussie author. 🙂

    This one seems to have a lot of parallels with Dianne Blacklock’s The Secret Ingredient, which you might enjoy. It seems like a light read, but there’s a lot about responsibility, self-sacrifice and isolation in it as well.



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Nov 11, 2011 @ 11:53:35

      Hi Steph,
      The author is Canadian not Australian, but its a book worth reading anyway.. I saw your review of The Secret Ingredient over at AWO and added it to my TBR 🙂

      Oh and I definitely schedule LOL. I am so not a morning person! I schedule for early morning so it catches the tail end of the US 🙂



  4. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 09:39:54

    PS, I’m curious–this one came through as I was checking my email this morning. Do you write your reviews at 6am, or do you schedule them? If the former, well, I’m in awe of you!



  5. Teddyree
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 10:02:21

    This is definitely one I’d love to read, I love how it inspired such intense internal debate. Thanks for the wonderful review.



  6. Stephanie @ Little Wed Hen
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 11:56:14

    Ah, thanks for clarifying Shelleyrae. I think the fact that A&U is the publisher tricked me!

    Good work on the scheduling. I need to get my act together and to the same thing!



  7. Mystica
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 15:07:34

    This is there and available in the Carnegie library so I am hoping to get it Monday. Thanks for the review.



  8. The Australian Bookshelf
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 13:36:52

    This sounds like a really good read. Great review Shelleyrae



  9. mari (Bookworm with a View)
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 23:38:25

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one. The husband bothered me to but when he came back I had to come to terms with him, hoping he really did find work and look to provide for his family. He’s still a horrible person for stealing and leaving his wife like that.

    Lorraine and the ending: I was left satisfied, she took control of her family. The conversation with Clara was exactly what I was waiting for (for her to take her family back).

    We must do this again sometime.



  10. Trackback: Review: The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott « book'd out

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