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The Honeymoon

By Justin Haythe

This debut novel by thirty-year-old Haythe concerns the Oedipal struggle between American boy Gordon, and his formidable divorcee mother Maureen, who has dragged him around the capital cities of Europe while he was growing up, as she pursued research for her never published guide to the art treasures of various museums and churches. Her ex-husband Theo, Gordon’s father, footed the bill for these peregrinations, while himself going through new wives with alarming frequency.

These are displaced Henry James characters, trying to live in a world already long vanished. As Gordon says of Maureen, early on: ‘Her great regret was that she had missed by fifty years the time when Europe was still open to Americans – when only the smart and the sensitive came across – and when, by merely opening your mouth, you did not immediately put people off.’

Cut adrift in London, where he is studying photography at a second-rate art college, Gordon takes up with Annie, shop girl and voracious reader, and starts to get a glimpse of a more quotidian, less rarefied world. As a culmination to their first date, they make love in the bushes on Hampstead Heath. Within a year, they are getting married.

Over the course of a year in London, Gordon and Annie try to construct an idea of married life for themselves, until their long-delayed honeymoon of the title takes them to Venice. This was the wedding gift of Maureen and her new beau Gerhardt, but kept having to be postponed. Trouble is, the offer was to accompany her and Gerhardt, rather than to go on their own. Honeymooning with one’s mother: now there’s a recipe for disaster. And so it proves. But was the absurd but shocking act of violence perpetrated by Maureen against Annie done out of deliberate malice and madness, or just an involuntary symptom of the as yet undiagnosed brain tumour which would eventually kill her? It hardly matters, as Gordon and Annie’s relationship is blighted from then on.

This is a subtle and well-written novel, with touches of sinister Banvillean atmospherics, not least in the exerts from Maureen’s guide which open some chapters, reminiscent as they are of the descriptions of paintings which grace Banville’s fine novel, Athena. It also captures perfectly the affectlessness which an over-aestheticised milieu can spawn, and the angst attendant upon having an overbearing mother.

First published in the Irish Independent

 

 

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