The Companion by Lorcan Roche is a book about kindness, and its occasional evil twin, anger. Let me explain. Kindness is our greatest tool against the inequities of life. When we are kind to strangers, we are allowing a shared humanity and underscoring an intrinsic shared value: we are saying "you deserve courtesy as much as I do because we are equally human and valuable." When we offer a seat to an elderly person, we are giving them a benefit for the fact of being old, leveling the teeter totter of youth and age; when we offer sympathy to someone overcome by sorrow, we are offering to share the loss and attempting to relieve its unfairness ("Why him? Why now?").
When people send money to Haitian relief organizations, it is a kindness that seeks to redress the unfairness of nature, economics, and politics. Anger that arises from our inability to redress injustice is the evil twin of kindness because such anger is our impulse to make good turned back by circumstances (failure to cure cancer or abolish poverty, for example) and, in the turning, made angry.
Trevor, narrator of The Companion, is a believer in the power of kindness, although he never says so in so many words. His narration is a powerful accumulation of memories, and of judgments and assessments that he lives by. Because of certain events in his life, he has become a caretaker of the infirm, disabled, and weak. Through the kindness of his care, he redresses the unfairness of their illnesses. While he cannot cure the patients he cares for, he can make their disabilities feel not quite so disabling or disfiguring, or terrible. Trevor himself has been succored through the pain of inequities - his gross height, his questionable parentage, his nasty siblings -- by the loving kindnesses of his mother. When the unfairness of life overwhelms him, Trevor turns to anger as a release but never as an answer. His impulses to kindness and anger are the same (good twin and evil twin): what Trevor wants is to level the playing the field, to make the object of his kindness feel the same highs as the ones lucky in life and the object of his anger to feel the same lows as the benighted.
Trevor is a fascinating and complex character, charming and yet clumsy, rough, and often simply violent. He is a more healthy and robust version of Don Quixote, tilting at the windmills of pettiness, selfishness, greed, and cold calculation, and trying to bring humanity back into the equation of relationships. His tenderness, when exhibited, is extraordinary -- it was quite moving to read a scene of a man kissing the forehead of a boy with no intention other than to show affection -- and his ability to connect with the good-hearted while also rooting out the frauds and fakers makes him really lovable at times. His final showdown with injustice -- in the form of a boy with not much more time to live but the desire to live, nevertheless -- is moving, funny, and provoking.
Lorcan Roche has written a truly original novel, and well-rooted as it is in the ancient tradition of storytelling as societal mirror and moral fable, it is marvelous.