What’s BookieMonster currently reading? In My Father’s Den by Maurice Gee
As part of New Zealand Book Month (being October – I’d like to think they choose it because it’s my birthday month, but I have a feeling this is not, in fact, the case), and just add books’ NZ Book Month Challenge, I decided to read a few New Zealand authors (not that I need an excuse to read NZ authors, but it helps me make a decision about what I’m going to read next if I have some reasoning). First up was In My Father’s Den by Maurice Gee.
Ostensibly In My Father’s Den is a who-dunnit – a murder mystery that begins with the discovery of the body of Celia Inverarity, which quickly leads police to Paul Prior (the narrator of the book) who is the last person to see Celia alive, and who is also her English teacher as well as the jilted teenage boyfriend of her mother, Joyce (jilted in favour of Celia’s father, Charlie). This basic plotline frames the central, bigger part of the book, the story of men – three men in particular, Paul, his father and his brother Andrew – and the ways they hide from and cope with what their lives have been and become, and particularly the effects of the women in their lives.
The story is set in Wadesville – a not very thinly disguised version of Henderson, Auckland. One criticism I have of the book is this conceit – why the made up setting when it’s so clearly based on a real setting? Just use reality! Maybe in 1972 NZ (when the book was published) the publishers were afraid of using real New Zealand places for stories such as this – which is a shame because the setting is such an integral part of the story that the made-up version is a distraction when it could (and should) have been seamless.
My only other criticism really isn’t a criticism of this book – but I desperately wanted more of Celia. That, however, is really a whole ‘nother book, and potentially an extremely interesting one! But without more the few hints and brief glimpses into her life we have don’t quite ring true or authentic – she isn’t fleshy enough to stand as a whole character, but only as an idea. This tempts me to employ my Arts student cod-post-structuralism and wonder about the attitude towards the women in the book – the way their stories are essentially shut down and retreated from by the men and the tone of fear and mild distaste surrounding the female characters. This isn’t a criticism though – this adds to the depth of thought and feeling that this title evokes in the reader.
In My Father’s Den is, in many ways, the archetypal dark, mysterious New Zealand story. Somewhere in our psyche is this fear of ourselves, our land, our remoteness and the stories of all the people missing or lost that we carry. I always get a sense of black enjoyment to see this explored in books.
Three furry black paws from BookieMonster Kitteh.