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A Boy & His Uncle

Anne Kennedy
Pan MacMillan, 304pp
ISBN: 0 330 36057 4

review by Ann Skea

If you like magical realism and a sharp, dry humour, then this could be a book for you.

The McGaghans are "genteel poor, rather than plain poor", but their Irishness has followed them on their migrations around the world and around New Zealand. Even Honour, who "married away from nice feet. Nice feet had always been important to the McGaghans", had "taken a tiny piece of the peat bog with her, clinging to the sole of her shoe".

Lex McGaghan, who tells this story from within a contemplative monastic order, has led a life dominated by women but this is all rather strange. His mother gains his love by the use of a love-potion after his friend, Bernadette, marries another man. And his sister, Honour, stuffs socks up her jumper to simulate pregnancy when Lex is expecting, then claims the child as her own. So Lex, who (not surprisingly) bears his immaculately conceived offspring in "searing attacks of pain", becomes his son's uncle.

Maurice, Lex's son/nephew is as odd as his father and only just a little odder than the rest of the family. But what happens to Maurice, Lex, Honour, Ignatius and Heeny I cannot tell you, because I did not finish the book.

I hasten to add that this was a matter of taste rather than quality, because New Zealander, Anne Kennedy writes well and with wry humour. But, as usual, the bizarre fantasies of the almost, but not quite, believable failed to hold my interest. The fault is mine, and readers with different tastes will, no doubt, follow the McGaghans peaty footsteps to the end.

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