Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1981, this re-released classic examines the pathologies of the early 20th century's fading Anglo-Irish aristocracy through the lens of narrator Aroon, whose dysfunctional family represents her class's worst excesses and failings.
To solve the whydunit of Good Behaviour, the reader must penetrate its narrator’s protective shell of denial, divining the truth through odd silences and peculiar lapses in the narrative point of view ... Layering Aroon’s past and present points of view with those of characters who haven’t yet been introduced, Keane masterfully reveals the coexistence in Aroon of deep, instinctual knowledge and willful ignorance. After all, she must know enough to know what she must not let herself know. Mrs. Brock’s fate acquires a mythic significance, a prime example of bad behavior brutally punished ... A narrator in denial; a style purged of description; a plot never spelled out; a love that dares not speak its name. Its satire a blade sharpened nearly to transparency, Good Behaviour was Keane at her keenest ... there is something undeniably modern about Good Behaviour. If it’s too quaint to be new, it’s too cruel to be old. Perhaps the perfect time to read it is now, in a global pandemic, when time feels stopped, present and past atrocities knit together on a single stitch. Fueled by an undercurrent of rage yet as taut and crisp and tidy on the surface as a perfectly turned Sally Lunn cake, Good Behaviour is as delectable a horror story as you are likely to encounter. Enjoy every crumb. Mustn’t waste.
... gloriously camp ... A superb comic creation, Mrs Brock is a middle-class widow, given to playing the piano, knitting, and falling in love with her employers ... Aroon’s narrative unfolds in a style in which everything is explained and nothing is said...so that reading the book is rather like reading a detective story, in which clues have to be picked up and decoded, or a murder mystery (lots of people die in questionable circumstances), which you have to interpret backwards while you are reading forwards ... The novel is both funny and terrifying precisely because of the suspicion that Aroon knows exactly what is going on and that the only way to survive is to behave as though she doesn’t ... Good Behaviour evokes a vanished world, but it does so unclouded by nostalgia ... The vision is sharp rather than soft focus, revelling in ornate detail ... Keane’s scenes are full of brightly lit and oddly oversized features picked out against highly stylised backgrounds ... It’s like a scene from a Wes Anderson film. You are immersed in one set of details until your eye is drawn by a sudden shift in focus to what lies beyond or slightly outside the frame.
... an excellent introduction by Amy Gentry ... At the center of Good Behaviour is Aroon St. Charles, 57 at the book’s start (in a scene that is one of most audacious openings I can recall), who narrates her life story with a singular lack of sentiment but a great deal of self-delusion, a trait that makes her alternately exasperating, sympathetic, hateful and endearing ... While it may appear that there is little to like or admire among the book’s characters—including Richard, Hubert’s intimate friend, with whom Aroon falls hopelessly and eternally in love, against all odds—Keane supplies a cast of supporting players who give us hope for humanity ... a minor classic as touching as it is darkly comic. Keane’s writing is lapidary and sensual. And achingly human ... Certain extended scenes are unforgettable ... Language sings on almost every page ... Good Behaviour and its reissue should by all rights give Keane a renaissance of the kind enjoyed by Barbara Pym. Wicked humor and deeply felt characters are the hallmarks of both women—as are their respective claims to be among 20th-century literature’s minor novelists most worthy of permanent attention.