A word of advice: make sure you set aside plenty of time to read Marie Gameson’s quirky, slightly perplexing, story of The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased).
At 265 pages, it’s not an especially long book but I guarantee that as soon as you read the last ambiguous sentence, you’ll want to go right back to the beginning and start all over again.
This is probably one of the most intriguing novels I’ve read in a long time. And hard to pigeon-hole too.
It’s definitely not a whodunnit, although there’s a mystery at the heart of the story, because, apart from Mr Gadd, who appears to have succumbed to natural causes, nobody has died.
Or have they? Because in the words of Winnie, the seriously unreliable narrator: what do we mean by death?
The blurb says The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased) explores the painful themes of having to grieve for someone who is not yet dead and trying to find one’s identity through an absent father.
Yes, but who’s not yet dead? And do fathers hold the key to the identity of their children?
One thing’s for sure nothing and no-one is quite who or what they seem in this immensely enjoyable and often wryly humorous book.
Certainly not Winnie, who perceives herself as serene and detached but whose inability ‘to turn off a tap she has turned on, or close a door that she has opened or put away anything she has taken out’ thoroughly irritates her sister Ursula.
In fact, Ursula has a list of 32 things about Winnie that annoy her.
These include not noticing the mess she leaves behind every time she has a shower, putting dirty washing on top of just washed clothes and adding wet clothes on top of dry clothes in the tumble direr.
It doesn’t stop there. ‘She is incapable of looking ahead. If she isn’t cold now she won’t take a coat even though it will be cold later. Ditto rain and raincoat.
‘She is like a drunk person trying to pretend that she is sober.’
Which suggest Winnie is perhaps not the best person to come to the aid of her former history teacher Fred Fallowfield, who’s haunted by poltergeist activity and insists stories Winnie wrote as a teenager hold the key to his problems.
It’s never entirely clear whether or not they do: but it doesn’t matter as we slowly unravel the puzzle of why Win stopped being the sensible sister.
But what really makes this book special is the clever word play that means the pages practically turn themelves.
It’s hard to illustrate effectively because taken out of context some of the one liners fall a little flat but, for example, the first time we meet Fred’s wife Maddy she is in hot pursuit of her errant husband.
She bangs on Winnie’s door. ‘Is my husband here?’
Winnie, who has a bit of a tendency to interpret things literally, replies in all seriousness: ‘Depends who your husband is.’
‘How long has he been coming here?’ demands Maddy.
‘I don’t know.’
‘You don’t know?’
‘How could I know? I have no idea where he set off from.’
Later, Winnie offers the pair a drink. ‘A glass of water for both of us, please,’ Maddy says.
Winnie returns with one glass for both of them.
Not perhaps laugh-out-loud funny but it made me smile a lot.
An absolute treat.
Review by Sue Featherstone.
Available to buy on Amazon.