Book Review: Prodigal

Prodigal, by Charles Lambert, tells the story of the Eldritch family, the secrets and resentments that led to the adult children’s estrangement. It opens when Jeremy, the younger of the siblings, is in his fifties. He is living in a tiny apartment in Paris, making a meagre living writing erotic fiction under a pseudonym. He receives a call from his sister, Rachel, telling him that their father is dying. Somewhat reluctantly he returns to the family home in Kent.

Jeremy has been living in Paris since soon after his graduation, a move arranged by his mother for reasons to be revealed. Rachel stayed with their father, although soon married Denny and set up a stables business assisted by the family wealth. Denny left her a decade ago in the company of an employee. Rachel has been nursing her father through his final bout of ill health, yet another task she feels her brother should be showing greater appreciation of. Now that he has returned she wishes him to assist, yet grows jealous when anyone suggests that his actions are in any way generous.

The family history is presented in four parts. These cover: Jeremy’s return (2012); the period around their mother’s final days in Greece (1985); the weeks leading up to Jeremy’s departure (1977); their father’s death (2012). The reader learns that neither parent behaved with grace. Each also had their obvious favourites in their offspring. The atmosphere in the family home was toxic with violent undercurrents.

Rachel regards Jeremy as wilfully degenerate due to his preference for men and his occupation. She is bitter and angry that her family have not conformed to her desired way of living. Jeremy has largely avoided thinking about his family since he was encouraged to move away. He has had to cope with the tragedy of lost lovers and the knowledge that his writing is regarded by many with derision. The few times he and Rachel have got together over the years highlighted their differences and ended in acrimony.

The author is a skilled wordsmith, fully engaging the reader whilst revealing the family’s history from each of the key players points of view. There is empathy but also recognition that these are flawed individuals, that ripples are created when indulging in prodigal behaviour. Family members have the ability to hurt each other so much more deeply than other acquaintances.

A tale that will resonate with any whose family does not conform to their personal ideal. An alluring and satisfying read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Gallic Books.

Click on the image above to look inside Prodigal

Book Review: The Children’s Home

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The Children’s Home, by Charles Lambert, is an allegorical tale written by an accomplished weaver of words. The prose is sparse yet perceptive. The surreal aspects leave much of the detail open for reader interpretation but the arc is clear, and disturbing. If we open our eyes to that which is happening all around we risk comprehending the wickedness of the world and may be forever changed.

Morgan Fletcher lives the life of a recluse in his large and rambling home set within its own extensive grounds behind high walls. He is disfigured and allows himself to be seen by no one except his housekeeper, Engel, who ensures that other staff members keep their distance. He is aware that the world outside his walls is violent and troubled. He assumes that rumours of his monstrous looks have encouraged others to stay away.

Morgan spends his time reading and writing, finding solace in the books left to him by his late parents and the grandfather whose wealth built the house and family business. This is now run by his co-beneficiary, a sister he never sees.

The story opens with the arrival of a baby girl, left on the kitchen steps and found by Engel. They decide to take her in, rightly surmising that she would be better off with them than with the Department of Welfare in the city. Soon other children start arriving, some with labels tied to them giving names, others old enough to speak their monikers. The children’s origins are unclear.

Morgan delights in having these youngsters in his house. Engel is eager to care for them although they are so well behaved this is not an arduous task.

When one of the little girls becomes ill, Doctor Crane is summoned from the city. Initially shy of this stranger Morgan hides but is persuaded to show himself after subsequent visits. The two men become friends.

The children’s behaviour is precocious and uncanny, especially that of the eldest boy, David. He becomes the de facto leader, and it is he who decides that Morgan should leave the safety of his seclusion. Officials have visited the house threatening to take the children away and action is required.

Various tropes are explored: lack of parental love; concern over outward appearance when valued as a trophy rather than the person one could otherwise become; how much esteem is bound up in others’ perceptions; how one will look away rather than do what is right if this could threaten a comfortable lifestyle.

The story demonstrates how fulfilling it is to assist an individual, especially if something personal is gained. There is desire for payment, be it friendship, admiration or gratitude. Returns are diluted if the results are imperceptible.

Likewise, when the cost of inaction is brought up close and personal the horror cannot be avoided, which is perhaps why so many choose to wear blinkers and construct walls.

The denouement was cleverly done, offering potential explanations whilst allowing scope for reader inference. The potting shed brought to mind our education system. Monsters wear masks for propriety, first defining what that is.

A compelling tale that is neither straightforward nor simple to deconstruct. For those, like me, who enjoy peeling back layers and being challenged to think it offers a hugely satisfying read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Aardvark Bureau.