THE CLEMATIS TREE by Anne Widdecombe


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First novel from a prominent British politician wrestles intelligently with the question of euthanasia, as the once close marriage of a couple with a brain-damaged son nearly breaks down.

Narrator Mark Wellings, initially a blindly self-absorbed husband and father, over the course of his story learns as much about life and faith as love. His wife Claire, the daughter of wealthy self-made businessman Sam Renwick, is also not terribly perceptive, but the pair’s obtuseness is as much a product of the strain of caring for son Jeremy as an innate personality trait. The story begins on the afternoon of daughter Pippa’s christening, when four-year-old Jeremy runs into the street and is hit by a speeding drunk driver. The boy survives but is severely disabled and requires constant tending to: he cannot speak, move, or feed himself. As the years pass, Claire retreats from friends and potentially helpful support groups, insisting on assuming full responsibility for Jeremy. Mark, bored with his accounting job and worn down by the tensions at home, suggests that he and Claire take a vacation. She insists he go alone. While on holiday Mark is tempted—though he doesn’t succumb—by an attractive, perceptive young widow he meets. As the Wellings drift further apart, Claire’s sister Sally, an MP, introduces a bill legalizing euthanasia under certain conditions. The press learns about Jeremy, and Mark and Claire must contend with all the unwanted media attention, as well as with a terrible accident in which some of Pippa’s school friends are killed. When Jeremy dies in a seeming accident, Mark decides he is now free to leave and make a new life for himself. But the author still has a few surprises up her sleeve, as she drives her sometimes overly action-packed plot to an affirmative end.

More subtly agenda-driven than most of its kind.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-297-64572-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2000