Gamble, by Kerry Hadley-Pryce, is a darkly compelling tale of an ordinary family unravelling. The narrative centres around the preoccupations of Greg Gamble, a middle aged husband, father and teacher. Greg no longer finds his wife, Carolyn, attractive but stays with her to avoid his daughter, Isabelle, becoming ‘one of those sorts of children’. He had no wish to become a father but has accepted the role, trying over the years to tamp down the resentments that occasionally bubble to the surface when he interacts with the girl. He has developed habits that he knows irritate, using them at times to satisfy his urge to needle.
When the story opens Greg is staring out his living room window (not lounge as his wife calls it) watching a young woman unload boxes from a van. Mesmerised by thoughts of the woman his cup of tea has gone cold. He sets it on the arm of a chair when he leaves for work knowing that his wife will be annoyed by such behaviour. Greg is aware of his body, the increasing aches and pains, the slight nausea he often now feels. He does not wish to be seen as aging but knows he is.
On arriving at the school where he teaches Greg feels unwell and is advised to go home. Stopping on the way for wine and cigarettes he spots the van with the young woman in the passenger seat. On a whim he drives away from his home, feeling reckless, thinking about the woman and the man she was with, he in derogatory terms.
Greg casts himself in many roles, preoccupied with what he has become. He thinks of the poetry he has written, of the young women he has encountered, of how he appears to himself and them. Given that he has stayed with his wife, despite what she has become to him, he believes he deserves the vices he chooses to indulge.
Lurking within the undertow of his thoughts lies the canal near his home, black and oily, reflecting its surrounds, bordered by mud, hiding its depths. It is a recurring and effective metaphor. The canal also reminds Greg of a pivotal event, one he cannot bring himself to regret despite its outcome.
Carolyn and Isabelle appear as irritants in Greg’s increasingly self-centred imaginings and dissipation. Their actions jar against his wish to retreat from their expectations of him as husband and father. The reader can sense an approaching crisis but when it comes it still shocks. They too will have been lulled into the blinkered landscape of Greg’s self-absorption.
The writing is nuanced, layered and unsettling. The tense of the narrative, the repetition of ‘He’ll say’ as events are recounted, suggests that Greg is to be called to account.
A quietly chilling depiction of what lies just below the surface of an outwardly ordinary and respectable family. A desolate yet riveting read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.