The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased), by Marie Gameson, is a charmingly idiosyncratic tale told by an unreliable narrator. The prose is quick and witty yet also affecting. Its protagonist is Winifred Rigby, a translator living in London whose memory is not what it should be. She is plagued by her mother and sister’s interference in her life. It took some time to understand why she granted them such freedom to come and go from her home, why they are constantly prying into her personal and private affairs.
The novel is a slow burner but this does not detract from its easy engagement. It explores how memory is curated and how the past shapes current perceptions. Individuals cling to what they consider important, which may mean little to others, even those who were also there. The same events will be remembered differently, reasons forgotten or fragments misunderstood.
The story opens with an old man knocking on Winifred’s front door. He is Fred Fallowfield and was her history teacher at school. He believes that his dead father is responsible for causing havoc at his home and that an essay Winifred wrote when she was fourteen holds the key to sending this disturbed being on its way. Fred’s wife catches up with him and tells Winifred he is suffering from dementia.
Fred will not be swayed from his conviction that only Winifred can help. Eventually she agrees to undertake research into mystic funeral rites from the East, at his behest. Meanwhile her own life is brightened by a chance encounter with an ex-boyfriend who, along with his girlfriend, proposition Winifred. She readily accepts and must then keep their liasons secret from her sister.
Another old schoolfriend, Diana, is also eager to rekindle their friendship. Winifred regards all her relationships with an air of detachment and is surprised to discover that she and Diana were once close. She makes a visit to Diana’s family home and lost memories are stirred.
Winifred does still care about her father who sells The Big Issue outside an underground station. Her sister talks of their father as though he is dead.
Winifred is trying to earn enough to enable her to return to Taiwan where she had been teaching English and where she last felt at peace. She has embraced Buddhism and practices mindfulness, although still keeps forgetting to complete simple, basic tasks. Her sister derides her apparent preference for all things East over West. Winifred believes her sister and mother are taking the money she earns, that they gave away her life savings, to keep her where she is.
As each of these threads is developed the reader gains a clearer picture of how Winifred is regarded by others, and how challenging many people find dealing with someone who behaves differently. Relationships are formed over time with shared memories being key. A recurring theme is the difficulty of grieving for the loss of a loved one when they are not yet dead.
The denouement fills in the gaps between what have been gradual reveals. Family is portrayed at its best and its worst yet there remains hope and understanding amidst the complexities of lives lived. Over time people change, however much those who love them struggle to regain what they once were.
The writing is deft, light and entertaining throughout with a depth of understanding that lingers well beyond the final page. A sagacious and captivating story that deserves to be widely read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.