Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Truth or Fiction by Jennifer Johnston
Jennifer Johnston writes tiny, perfect books, as delicate as wisps of silk chiffon booby-trapped with Semtex.
Ah so? Explosive secrets, then?
Book reviewer Caroline Wallace’s boss in the Telegraph sends her to Dublin (from her greyish life in London) to interview aged writer Desmond Fitzmaurice - everyone thinks he’s dead years ago, but he’s not.
Alive and kicking?
He promises her “lots of sex and some violence” in his diaries, which he holds under lock and key. Unlikely, she thinks, looking at the creaky old gent living in Sorrento Terrace over the strand at Dalkey.
And is there?
Oh, there is. There’s also lovely wry humour. When Caroline meets Desmond he strikes her as a bit of an egotist, waited on by wife, ex-wife, cleaning lady, sons and daughter. By the end of the book, she thinks he’s a monster.
Less sacred, more selfish. He’s like the sun around whom a solar system of infuriated female planets whirls. All his relationships are biting, with a dash of spite, like a pink gin dripping with Angostura bitters.
Any of this autobiographical?
Scarcely! Though the details of Fitzmaurice’s life share a likeness with the author’s father, playwright Denis Johnston, who was, like our hero, a war corr in WWII, and did, like him, divorce a beloved actress wife to marry another. But I can’t see him murdering anyone.
It’s mainly about murder?
No, it’s mainly about the horrors of growing old, and very funny with it. Desmond F is so antique he’s practically auctionable, but he’s still determined to chip his way back into the world of fame and fortune. He’s a ruthless old beast.
A good buy?
Good buy to all that. The editing, unfortunately, is a little lax, with ‘their’ for ‘there’, ‘affect’ for ‘effect’, and the like. It spoils the, er, effect.
Article by the author's son about the book's background