It is fifty years since the publication of Paul Theroux’s first novel, Waldo. Astonishingly prolific, he has published thirty further novels, plus almost twenty works of non-fiction, including a volume of criticism on V S Naipaul. Now aged seventy-six, he shows no signs of slowing down. At over 500 pages, his latest novel is a hefty family comedy-drama, which, he has said, is as close to an autobiography as he is ever likely to write.
Narrator Jay Justus – like Theroux, a novelist and travel writer – returns to the family home in Cape Cod following the death of his father. Waiting for him are his six siblings and his mother. Manipulative and vengeful, Mother rules over her children, demanding their love and loyalty, and setting them against each other in order to be the centre of attention and so maintain her power.
The siblings snipe and jockey for favour. Kindnesses are mocked, while honesty is punished. Everybody spreads rumours and lies; these are mostly instigated by Mother, although she denies it. Even the giving of presents is questioned: ‘It was a family suspicion that all gift giving was a form of cynical