Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Good Mayor

Title: The Good Mayor
Author: Andrew Nicoll
Genre: literary fiction/contemporary romance

Publisher: Bantam
Publishing Date: August 25, 2009
Paperback: 368 pages

Stand Alone or series: stand alone

Where did I get this book: Library (as usual)

Why Did I Read This Book:

I decided to give this book a try after I had read this passage on someone’s blog:
Good isn't so bad. Agathe would have settled for 'good' and, if he had chosen to do the good thing, Tibo could have stood up right there and then, he could have knocked the table over if need be and he could have picked her up in his arms and run out with her as if he had been rescuing her from a blazing building. He could have saved her. He could have taken her back to the big iron bed in his house at the end of the blue-tiled path with its broken gate and its brass bell and he could have spent all the rest of the afternoon saving her. He could have saved her all night. He could have saved her until he was exhausted to save her any more. He could have saved her again and again like no woman has been saved before or since, saved her in every way he could imagine and some he'd never thought of until that very minute and then she would have come up with some ideas of her own. But he did not. Tibo Krovic was the Mayor of Dot and the Mayor of Dot had never been known to carry another man's wife down the street, not even if she was his secretary, not even if she was in love with him, not even if she had loved him, it seemed, for as long as she could remember. (pg261-262)
How could I not read the book after that?

Summary: (from amazon)
Tibo Krovic has been the mayor of Dot, a small town in an unnamed country on the Baltic Sea, for 20 years. He's hopelessly in love with his secretary, Agathe Stopak, who's miserable in a loveless marriage with her drunkard husband. After consulting a psychic, Agathe begins to see the good mayor in a new light, and after the two tiptoe around each other for weeks, Tibo gets up the courage to ask Agathe out for lunch. But being the good man he is, he finds it difficult to cross any other boundaries with a married woman, even as tension builds between them. Meanwhile, Agathe gets tired of waiting for Tibo to make his move and stumbles into a mistake that could have very far-ranging consequences. Told with fantastical detail, delightful insights and a touch of humor, this fairy taleish romance is a genuine treat.
I don’t really like to summarize books myself (which is why I’ll never be a good book reviewer). I tend to just copy and paste some simple explanation so people get a gist of what I'm talking about without actually taking the effort to do it myself. I figure there will always be someone, somewhere, who has already done a much better job than I can ever hope to do and it’s just a waste of my time otherwise.

I’d like to pretend it’s because I’m just far too busy or incapable, but really it’s because I’m far too lazy.

But The Good Mayor isn’t so easy. It’s not the sort of book where I could find a simple summary to put here and just call it a day because the book isn’t simple to sum up. Yes, the story is a bit run of the mill (with a few notable exceptions), but the writing is exquisite. It’s the kind of writing that brings words like lush and poetic to mind. I found myself re-reading passages just so I could enjoy the flow of the writing and the imagery of the words.

So yes, the story is about the “Good Mayor Krovic” and his unhappily married secretary Mrs. Agathe Stopak. And yes it’s the classic - man loves woman who doesn’t know and then knows but keeps man in the dark only to lead to disastrous consequences and yet they miraculously end up together – but none of that actually sums up the utter magic Nicoll's writing has.

Besides the general awesomeness that is the writing (have I mentioned how good the writing is yet?), it’s really the details that turn this seemingly simple story into something quirky and adorable. There is St. Walpurnia, the narrator of the story, who is a bearded nun and now watches over the town of Dot. There is the Good Mayor’s habit of watching Agathe change shoes from under the crack of his office door and an Italian witch who can’t seem to mind her own business. The story is also filled with interesting names that add to the eccentricity of the story (Pushing Daises was the same in that regard).

All of these details combine to create a rich story full and Nicoll’s writing adds whimsy in a way I wouldn’t have expected.


If you can’t tell that I really loved this book already you must be a few screws short. I simple cannot say enough about the writing. Seriously, if I could write an ode I would. It really does put this book over the top and is what made the book for me. (Other books I felt the same way about are The Name of the Wind and Daughter of the Forest.)

I’m not a big fan of romances per say, but this book is so much more than that.

The writing is good in fact, that I can excuse the strange ending this book had. I don’t know why Nicoll decided to take the story where he did, but it was all a bit odd to me. I know that doesn’t make much sense since I said the book had bearded nuns and witches, but I can’t really explain why the ending rang untrue for me.

It might be because I felt the ending was a bit hurried, but I thought it hurt an otherwise close to perfect book.

Besides that, my only other gripe with the story was a major decision Agathe’s character made. It just seemed too out of the character for her and it really hurt Agathe’s character. I understand the need to make Tibo and Agathe’s story difficult, but the way this situation played out didn’t ring true to me. (Of course this could just be because it was so hard to watch Agathe suffer.)

That being said, the story was great and one of my favorite reads this year.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

Another passage I really liked (page 98-99):
They fooled each other. They fooled each other at the wedding when Agathe thought that Tibo had shed a sympathetic tear, never considering that he might have been weeping with frustration because he wanted her and could not have her. And Agathe fooled him when she wept with jealousy for the fat baby growing in Kate’s belly and he never realized. They fooled each other every day in a thousand ways, neither of them daring to admit their lack, neither of them daring to speak their pain, each unwilling to confess th truth about their lives. They almost, almost fooled themselves.

And yet they comforted each other. Agathe with her buxom cheerful beauty – she couldn’t help being beautiful – and Tibo with his kindness. Tibo couldn’t help being kind. They warmed each other with those little gifts – kindness and beauty. They are precious. They are always in short supply.

And, in days measured out by the chimes of the cathedral carillon and the clinks of coffee cups and weeks measured out in new typewriter ribbons or sittings of the Parks and Recreation Committee, they clung together secretly, nursed each other unawares, dressed one another’s wound. When Agathe spent the morning looking at her blue enamel lunch box that sat on her desk in the place where once a little parcel from Braun’s had nestled, when the high point of her day was taking it to the fountain and feigning surprised delight at discovering the sandwiches she had made for herself that morning, then it was the high point of Tibo’s day too. See him there, up there on the secret balcony, by the flagpole, up in the sky, watching her, watching over her? It’d the fulcrum of his life.

Or, when Tibo went home alone to the old house at the end of its blue-tiled path and sat in the kitchen as the cheese congealed in that evenings omelette and he burrowed in a briefcase full of council papers, hoping to find Agathe in it, hoping to drive her from his mind, she was in the flat in Aleksander street, above Oktar’s delicatessen, thinking about him.


If you’re still not sure you want to read this book than you’re just crazy.

As St. Walpurnia says "Anyway, this story is much more about the telling than the things that happen in it..."

Rating: A high 9. The odd ending bumped it down from a perfect ten, but it was still great.

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