I seem to have been remarkably lucky with my reading lately. No sooner had I put down Lloyd Jones’s Hand Me Down World, a wonderful book that is getting heaps of well deserved publicity, than I discovered a terrific new author with Catherine Harris’s Like Being a Wife – and now a splendid first novel, The Philanthropist, by John Tesarch.
It has a very powerful first chapter that hooked me straight away. All the characters are deeply flawed: Charles Bradshaw is a wealthy businessman, a prominent philanthropist and a man with a hidden past. After a massive heart attack his life is transformed: the family he has been too busy for doesn’t want him; his colleagues no longer need him; and he has no friends.
Anna Murphy is a Supreme Court judge. She too is alone after a marriage that failed a long time ago; she is married now to the job and has little to look forward to but an empty retirement. She has no children, but like Charlie she has many regrets.
It is a deeply melancholy book with a pervasive sense of hopelessness, but it is not depressing because of Charlie’s earnest (albeit misguided) attempts to salvage some integrity. The interest lies in the variety of ways in which he tries to use his money to buy forgiveness – and whether every man (or woman) has a price. Can there be redemption for a man whose idea of restorative justice is compromised by a lifetime of denial and suppressed emotion?
There is some beautiful writing and here and there a truly memorable turn of phrase, such as this:
They eat in silence. Shellfish, riesling. No doubt the food is first class, but she has lost her appetite. To others they must appear to be just another couple who have run out of conversation, the dining dead. (p224)
Alice Robinson has written a fine review at Crikey. She blogs her reading at Criterature but it’s one of those annoying Blogspot blogs that don’t feature categories so alas it’s not conducive to browsing or finding your favourite authors easily. I recommend subscribing to it so that you don’t miss anything…
Virginia Millen has written a rather grudging review at Readings. Is it really fair to compare a first novel by a debut author to The Heather Blazing by the internationally acclaimed master of contemporary literature Colm Tóibín? I don’t think so.