I hadn't read Stanley Middleton before. I first knew him as the author whose name I didn't recognise on a list of Booker Prize winners (he shared the prize with Nadine Gordimer in 1973). His novels were usually conspicuous by their absence from bookshop shelves.
Middleton's 'Necessary Ends' is a novel about an old man by an old man and deals with death, regret and loneliness in a way that is never mawkish or sentimental, eschewing melodrama in favour of an almost forensic realism.
A hostile critic might complain that the end result of this realism is a novel in which nothing happens. That would be unfair. In one scene a pub lunch is arranged, in another chocolate biscuits are served on a small plate. There is even an episode that involves the misuse of a front lawn.
But I'm being flippant about what is actually an exquisite, beautifully observed novel, written with great warmth and humanity. And once you realise that the author isn't going to resort to any of the predictable plot devices for a novel about an octogenarian - the heart attack, the violent burglary, the estranged child - you're left with a story in which even the most trivial events are loaded with significance.
In its quiet, understated way, 'Necessary Ends' has the same dramatic and redemptive qualities as any novel I could mention, but they are more subtle and nebulous. A pub lunch that might seem mundane to most of us becomes a transfigurative event and is quietly uplifting, suggesting that we can be surprised by joy at any age.
Which brings me back to the theme of finding pleasure in the familiar, or as Blake put it, heaven in a wild flower. Here are a few photos from the last week: