Friday, 29 October 2010

Piers Paul Read - 'The Misogynist'

I must admit that I found myself getting unreasonably irritated by The Misogynist, even though it is well-written, psychologically astute and, at times, wryly amusing. Part of the reason was because it's yet another book about a man embittered by the breakup of his family. Contemporary fiction is full of such men and reading novels like these always makes me want to scurry back to Great Expectations. However, another reason for my irritation is summed up by the embittered barrister whose story the novel tells. Towards the end of the novel he asks whether the function of writing is merely to process "the raw material of human agony into digestible entertainment for airline passengers and reading groups?" This is not a novel for airline passengers but, on the other hand, it isn't wholly clear who it is aimed at. 

Jomier, the barrister, is not a religious man and the many problems that life has thrown his way, ranging from distant children to an adulterous wife, have turned him sour. He worries, he complains, he tries to wrestle back a measure of control by obsessively transcribing his journals onto his computer. However, despite not being religious, he has a remarkably good understanding of Catholic theology and drops it into conversation with greater regularity than most men of his age or nationality would. When the turn to God comes it is, therefore, no great surprise. It is an answer to Jomier's problems that the Catholic reader (and, one suspects, Read himself) has been itching to give him since the start of the book: to a non-Catholic reader it looks, I suspect, rather forced. The Misogynist does have a clever twist at the end, which makes Jomier's moaning easier to cope with, but I'm not sure it's quite enough. 

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