Review: ‘The Good Mayor’ by Andrew Nicoll

I read The Good Mayor because I loved If You’re Reading This, I’m Already Dead, reviewed here. Despite apparent differences between the two, the elements that made me love the first book – narration, humour and brilliant characters – were all present in this novel as well.

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The Good Mayor is, simply, about a love affair between the mayor, ‘good’ Tibo Krovic, and his secretary, Mrs Agathe Stopak. Note the ‘Mrs’, the obvious obstacle between the couple, who you desperately root for from the first minute that Tibo crouches down to his carpet in order to see one of Agathe’s perfect feet through the gap between the door and the floor.

Both protagonists are endearing. Good mayor Tibo is incredibly sweet, although you want to be able to yell at him sometimes to just make a move! Agathe is a wonderful character who just wants to be loved. She tries hard to be the best wife to her husband, but he has never been the same since the tragic loss of their child. There is a great supporting character in the form of a lawyer, as well as appearances from an Italian fortune teller/barista, and Hector, Stopak’s rogue of a cousin.

The Good Mayor is not some passionate fling, it’s a love affair; make sure you have the time to dedicate to the book before starting it. The relationship develops slowly. This might make some readers want to rush ahead, but I felt that this made it more realistic, despite a fairy-tale quality to the writing. If I started reading before going to bed then I ended up reading far later than I should have, getting swept up in the romance of it all. It’s not fast-paced, it’s slow-burning. As the narrator points out:

Perhaps there should be more to tell about a night voyage in an open boat – particularly in a story which has gone on for pages about a concert in a bandstand and bothered to note how a simple postcard made its way from a pillar box on City Square, all the way to the Central Post Office and back again. […] Anyway, this story is much more about the telling than the things that happen in it, so can we just agree that things carried on much the same for the next few hours[?] (Black and White, pp. 335-6)

The narration is one of many reasons to love the book. St Walpurnia doesn’t draw attention to herself (often), and yet the voice is completely developed, never becoming straight narration of events. It seems clear that quirky, funny narration is a particular strength of Nicoll’s. There is often a matter-of-fact nature to the humour, which had me laughing out loud in quiet train carriages too many times.

The events themselves might not include crashing weddings, car chases, or anything with a lot of fuss or spectators, but they are a celebration of the everyday. Surely every reader can relate to the idea that a simple lunch with that one special person can make your day? However, the story is not without elements of the extraordinary. I will admit that there was one part towards the end where I started to think, ‘Wait a minute, what on earth is going on here?’ Just suspend your disbelief for a bit and see what happens in the end.

If I had to sum up the book in one word, it would be ‘charming’. That might seem like a simple word, but when you consider all its connotations and interpretations and all the ways to be charming, then you see how much is encompassed in one little word. In the same way, The Good Mayor is a story, beautifully told, about two people falling in love. In the simplicity of the idea there can be all sorts of complications, real or created by the characters, which are captured perfectly in this novel.

*****

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