OUR FATHERS by Andrew O’Hagan


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The first fiction from Glaswegian journalist O'Hagan (The Missing, 1996) a muted, melancholy, and gently touching tale of a son who returns home for the death of his grandfather and finds both the private, and the public, dimensions of a changing Scotland. “Our fathers were made for grief . . . And all our lives we waited for sadness to happen,” observes Jamie Bawn, now in his early 30s. Growing up under Robert Bawn, a vicious, raging alcoholic, Jamie recounts his tortuous childhood, and his sustaining intimacy with his mother Alice, who suffered her husband for years. Finally, Jamie moved out, to live with his grandparents Hugh and Margaret. Hugh, Robert’s father, was a “visionary” urban planner who guided the construction of public-housing projects in 1970s Glasgow—high blocks of concrete and glass similar to those in the US from the era. Margaret was a good teacher, and Hugh was an energetic, ambitious father-figure for young Jamie, and years later, when Jamie receives word that Hugh is dying, he hurries from England to ease the way for both Hugh and Margaret. By now, Robert has disappeared, though Jamie is delighted to find Alice remarried and freshly independent. Hugh’s dying, though, is not untroubled: an investigation is probing the old man’s possible misappropriation of funds during his tenure as “Mr. Housing,” and his beloved structures are being torn down to make way for the new. Which, Jamie finds, includes glimpses of Trainspotting Scotland, a polluted, history-soaked, seemingly exhausted land. But at Hugh’s funeral, Robert turns up, then quickly disappears. Jamie follows and finds he’s sobered up and now contentedly, modestly drives a taxi. After a reconciliation of sorts, the tale closes on a cautiously hopeful note. A relatively simple story, written with an entrancing, gentle eloquence: O'Hagan offers a deeply moving meditation on losses, both personal and historical, and on the tide of time through generations.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-15-100494-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1999


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