Mister Spoonface, by Paul Blaney, explores what it means to be a father. Set in and around contemporary London it tells the story of Fred Pooley, a thirty-seven year old bachelor who has never wanted children, until one day he realises that he does. He has a gap in his life that is making him miserable. This tale chronicles his attempts to find some means by which to fill it, to give him purpose and make him whole.
It opens with this memorable line:
“A year before his actions won him nationwide notoriety and a prison term, Fred Pooley landed in Heathrow.”
Having decided to give up a lucrative job in Hong Kong, Fred returns to London unsure of what he is going to do next. He finds a flat and makes contact with his ex-girlfriend, Sally. She is now living with her new partner and they have a two year old child. Fred is entranced by the toddler.
Through a writing group at a local library he meets Petra and they begin a relationship. Petra makes it clear from the off that she does not want children, a state with which Fred concurs. Much as he likes Petra though, he is still drawn to Sally and her child. He starts to fantasise about fatherhood, watching children in parks and on the streets around his new home.
Fred has a troubled relationship with his mother who raised him alone. She has never told Fred who his father is, and he now wishes to find out. His attempts at making contact do not provide him with the solace he desired.
Petra works at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which sets Fred thinking about a time when he donated his sperm before he went to Hong Kong. He takes pleasure in the possibility that the children he has been watching could be biologically his.
Idle fantasy and casual observation morph into obsession. Fred crosses a line, knowing that what he is doing is dubious but seemingly unable to control his urges. He observes the surly teenagers who shout abuse and litter the streets, questioning the parenting techniques of the families he is increasingly drawn towards.
The tightly written plot oozes an undercurrent of menace as Fred’s obsession takes over his life. He pushes away those who care about him, ingratiating himself with strangers to get close to their kids.
His fall is expertly presented, offering as it does some understanding of why Fred acts as he does. It is still the stuff of every parent’s nightmare. The denouement offers a satisfying conclusion to a disturbing tale.
This is a timely and thought provoking read given the advances in reproductive techniques and the moral complexities introduced when conception requires a third party. Resultant children have a legal right to details of donors, yet can donors be considered parents in any real sense of the word?
Recommended for the quality of the writing and tensity of the plot realisation. The issues raised are an added bonus for those who like to ponder beyond the final page.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Red Button Publishing.