FOXPRINTS by Patrick McGinley


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Since making a fine debut with the taut black comedy of Bogmail (1978), McGinley has become increasingly creepy and whimsical and rococo in his jaunty Irish mixtures of sex, violence, psychopathology, and Joycean humor. This new novel is the most fanciful and curious--and perhaps the least satisfying--of all. Calling himself ""Charles Keating,"" a youngish Irish journalist has fled from his homeland and taken on a new identity (for reasons left largely murky). In England he encounters handsome, 60-ish Colonel Peter Quilter--who invites Keating to join his bizarre household in the London suburb of Wistwood. How bizarre? Well, the other boarders at ""Foxgloves"" are a Scotsman and a Welshman; the household operates by quasi-military rules, with Col. Quilter as the imperious, snobbish C.O.; women are barred--except for periodic, kinky visits from a cheery call-girl named Jilly Dingles (who stages penis-measuring contests and other games); and the baroque dinner table conversation usually centers on feces or foxes. . .or both. Keating, in need of a cheap hide-out, finds himself fitting in at ""Foxgloves,"" accepting the Colonel's fey obsessions and tricky formalities (involving much word-play). He seeks more conventional company elsewhere--having a lusty interlude with a 50-ish widow and a more intense affair with married neighbor Ann Ede, an idiosyncratically devout Catholic who tries to bring Keating back to the Church. But Keating's suburban sojourn becomes ever more fraught with anxiety--as local women fall victim to a psycho-killer with an apparent fox obsession! (One victim is found draped in fox fur, another in foxtail grass, etc.) Is one of Keating's housemates the misogynistic psycho soon known as the Wistwood Fox? Why does Keating himself feel so guilty? Well, though things come to a violent conclusion after Keating refuses to collect fox feces for the Colonel, neither the plot nor the theme is persuasively resolved. As in his previous concoctions, McGinley's gift for offbeat, allusive dialogue is a source of intermittent diversion here. And the very Irish blend of earthiness (food, erotica, scatology) with erudition and theology is mildly enticing. Overall, however: too arch and farfetched to work as psycho-suspense, too scrappy and uninspired (the metaphor-heavy sex passages are particularly undistinguished) to succeed as a surreal romp in the Joyce-to-Donleavy tradition.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's