A skilfully written literary novel, The Necessary Angel takes us into the world of books, with a tale peopled by academics, writers and lecturers immersed in literature. Set in 2014, the novel follows the story of Max, an expat Kiwi who ‘had lived in Paris long enough to feel at ease’ who is married to a French woman. But their relationship has changed with Max now living estranged from his wife in the downstairs apartment, while she lives with the children upstairs.
Living in a sort of relationship limbo, Max is drawn to several women, and the story follows his relationships and infidelities, in a world where literary criticism is also a key part of the story. This is also part of Europe where terrorism and migration issues are constantly in the background.
When an artwork is stolen, the novel takes off in a new direction as a mystery, and the reader is rewarded by a surprising, but satisfying twist at the end. As we follow the characters through the backstreets and courtyards of Paris, the French city comes vividly to life.
The Necessary Angel is C.K. Stead’s first novel in five years, and it shows a novelist in masterful control of his material. It’s not a quick read, but an intricate read with love and fidelity at the core. But it is also a novel about literature and the importance of books in everyday life. The pages burst with discussions about books between the characters, but readers shouldn’t worry if they are not familiar with all the works – it is an interesting aspect of the novel even if you haven’t read all the books the characters discuss.
C.K. Stead has won many awards for his writing, and I predict he will win more for The Necessary Angel. This is a novel that is edgy and intellectual, elegant fiction that inspires curiosity to turn the pages. And the publisher should be congratulated for the stunning cover – it’s a beautiful cover and very much in keeping with the content of the book.