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Confidence, courage and assurance
on 29 October 2009
Faith Fox is the baby daughter of Holly Fox, a jolly-hockey-sticks type, married to Andrew, a young doctor. Holly, to the horror of half of the Home Counties, dies giving birth - something that just doesn't happen these days, and certainly not to people like Holly who has been brought up with every privilege. Everyone thinks her mother Thomasina will take over, but she doesn't. To the disdain of her friends Thomasina goes off on a fling to Egypt with a retired general of seventy-three.
Andrew, working all the hours God sends as a junior hospital doctor is in despair until it is suggested that his older brother Jack and his wife Jocasta will look after baby Faith. Jack is a preacher living in a disused monastery on the Yorkshire Moors, who has set up a kind of social services haven for people down on their luck. Along with a couple of young ex-burglars (nick-named the Smikes), he is presently housing a number of refugee Tibetans who learned their English in Liverpool. Jocasta has an 11 year-old son from a previous liaison, Philip, who is currently being educated at a private school, also up on the moors. This book is crammed full of life, energy and fascinating sub-plots, involving minor and major characters, none of whom are stinted or caricatured.
Gardam's tremendous generosity and free-wheeling exuberance makes this, in my opinion, as good as her Booker winner of a few years ago, Old Filth. Not only is this book full of insight and depth, it is also ravishingly funny throughout. It is a story about betrayal, the north-south divide, and love - for children and between men and women. I could not put it down as it segued from situation to situation, from character to character, with such confidence, courage and assurance. There seemed to be no corner of human existence that could be hidden from the unerring accuracy of vision gifted to this writer. Gardam has won the Whitbread Prize several times and has twice been nominated for the Booker. This is one of her best books.