Fans of Edward O. Phillips and his alter-ego protagonist, Geoffry Chadwick, will be pleased to learn that there’s a new book in town.
Phillips has always had a loyal following in the gay community, with his understated thrillers-cum-comedy-of-manners starring urbane, gay, Montreal anglophone Geoffry Chadwick, but I think he is unique in the loyalty he commands from a broader sector of the reading public: PLUs, People Like Us. (Or at least, people like me.)
Women of a certain age appreciate his well-mannered and sophisticated approach to life, and cherish his biased mandates about proper protocol and appropriate apparel (especially shoes). An even wider audience – anyone who savours Wildean aphorisms and pronouncements – will also welcome his frequently raunchy but always germane wit.
This time, deeper emotions reveal Geoffry’s views on life and death. He has always been a gay man who likes women and enjoys their company. Elinor, his belatedly discovered life companion, has died just before this story begins with her funeral. (If readers are confused about a gay man mourning the loss of his life partner, a woman, they should read Phillips’s previous book, Queen’s Court, about how that liaison happened.)
He decides to celebrate her life with a party – a wake, if you will. As he goes through the guest list and makes the arrangements, barely tolerating his sister Mildred and dutifully and lovingly visiting his alcoholic mother in her senior citizens’ retreat, he is sought out by a son he never knew he had. Harold not only looks like Geoffry but also has the same one-liner approach to life. Readers will enjoy the riffs they indulge in as much as they do themselves.
Unfortunately, the resemblance stops on the surface. Harold has none of Geoffry’s depths or standards, as his new-minted father discovers.
Geoffry behaves admirably, but with the added complexity of grief and age underlying everything he’s doing.
Elinor’s absence is felt constantly, causing him pain but also providing guidance as he recalls her wisdom. That, plus liberal applications of spirits, mainly vodka and Scotch, taken orally, get him through the days.
I have always enjoyed the edge in Phillips’s writing, but this time there is an added depth. He deals with aging People Like Us – that’s everyone. It’s nice to have someone notice.
Novelist and playwright Betty Jane Wylie has a cobweblog at bettyjanewylie.com.