Is Patrick McGrath's new book 'Constance' worth a read? Find out

Sep 22, 2013, 06:24 IST | Phorum Dalal

In his latest book, Constance, author Patrick McGrath delves into the mind of a lonely, haunted woman, whose childhood lends her this dark character peppered with flaws, misgiving and distrust towards her parent, finds Phorum Dalal

What we see and live in our childhood makes us the adults we are. It is also true that we look up to our parents, and compare the people who walk into our lives to them. A daughter will always looks for elements of her father in the man she falls in love with, we have hear many say. But it may not always be a good thing, as the mind is likely to twist facts depending on how memory recalls it.

Constance Schuyler lives in Manhattan and bumps into Sidney Klein, a professor of poetry. Schuyler is convinced that the unnecessary conviction, the voice of scorn and disapproval of her father, Morgan, will finally come to an end with her marriage to a man 20 years her senior. She can start afresh, with her new father figure, ‘a new daddy’. She settles into his home which she finds dingy and overflowing with books, only to doubt her decision to marry the fat man within months. The only person Schuyler approves of and is also quite fond of is Howard, Klein’s eight-year-old son from his ex-wife.

Constance Patrick McGrath Published by Bloomsbury Circus Price: Rs 499

Schuyler’s character is realist, stripped to the naked as she voices every thought and judgment she conjures in her head. In short, this disturbed woman blames her father for not appreciating her enough, having to mother her younger sister Iris -- a flamboyant girl who falls in love with a piano player -- after Harriet, their mother succumbed to cancer.

For Schuyler, daddy is the problem, he is the wicked father figure she hates on one hand, but is obsessed with on the other hand. Each and every character in the story peppers the plot with their whims and fancies. Klein is the sane man, who loves architecture as much as he loves marriage. A fact that brings forward his practical reasoning. Conversations with him up end up as lectures, much to Schuyler’s fury. Every day fights, and remarks such as ‘I am already educated!” describes the couple’s age gap and growing distance, at least in the wife’s mind.

While the book begins with Schuyler’s narration, it is interesting to hear Klein’s voice narrating the same events in the next chapter. Men are from Mars and Women are from Venue, touche. Let’s come to the father, Morgan, who lives in a house with a tower in Ravenswood on the Hudson River with a miss Mildred Knapp, a sort of caretaker cum old-time neighbour. Interesting, the author lets Klein describe him, as if to do justice to the imagination of the reader. Wouldn’t we hate the father if a hating daughter were to introduce him? Tall, an old-school man, in his late sixties and a stark opposite of the image in Schuyler’s mind.

All hell breaks loose when the Kliens, along with Howard, and Iris pack their bags and head to Ravenswood for Christmas. Morgan’s one single confession turns her world upside down. She is able to piece the broken bits and also, hate her father even more.

But the truth sets her free, once she accepts it. While the build up is intense, that the end is flat for many reasons. A drama story can only end in certain number of ways and eventually, for Constance too life takes a turn for the best. Well known for his gothic fiction, McGrath has painted a pretty grey picture of a marital relationship, which the convoluted protagonist enters on the pretense of finding redemption from her father. The hatred Constance has nurtured so long is her comfort drug, an excuse for her sadness and a reason for her to falter. The book is gripping, but falls flat compared to the expectation it builds.

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