There is always a risk when a novelist harnesses two distinct narratives written in different registers, and not even the greatest of the Victorian masters of this sort of novel always managed to do this successfully. Even Dickens, for example, failed to do so in Our Mutual Friend. So it is not surprising that Paulson-Ellis can’t quite bring it off. Inasmuch as the war chapters ring coldly true, so the comic extravagance of Solomon’s quest rings false. Nevertheless, while one may judge that the novel as a whole doesn’t work, never becoming a complete and credible thing, it is rich in individual delights. Its dark underside is persuasive and enjoyable, even if one may think that the picture of Edinburgh and the observation of the duality of Edinburgh society and the characters of its people are stereotypical and therefore stale. On the other hand in both the contemporary and wartime sections it is full of good things, and much of it is richly enjoyable. Paulson-Ellis writes with verve and vividness, also with sympathy.
"One Booker shortlist later, Galley Beggar were proved correct. Ellmann’s novel isn’t perfect, and it may not take the prize, but in a world where Ian McEwan is still at large, something introspective and richly painted is a tonic for us all...."
— The Daily Telegraph
4.25 out of 5
This complex tale moves between soldiers in rural France at the end of World War I and present-day Edinburgh. The eponymous and chaotic hero, who makes a living hunting down heirs to wills, is pursuing the descendants of an old man recently deceased... The characterisation is great and the atmosphere powerful. The bored and fractious platoon is wonderfully evoked. But, I have to admit, I found it a bit confusing at times.