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If He Lived
Jon Stephen Fink

If He Lived
Jon Stephen Fink
Jonathan Cape
London 1997

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If He Lived is ‘a modern ghost story’. The narrative focuses predominantly on a middle-aged American couple, Lillian and Freddy Foy. On our first meeting with the couple they appear settled and comfortable in the rut of their ‘ordinary’ everyday lives. Yet as one becomes more intimate with them the tension in their thirty-year-old marriage surfaces. Their trouble begins when Lillian, the provider of stability and ‘normality’ in their relationship sees what she believes to be a ghost in torment and agony. Together with her job as a psychiatric nurse, a horrific murder investigation and a confession by Freddy, the strain pushes her and their relationship to the very edge.

This is a novel that convincingly portrays the complexities of the human mind. Throughout, Fink explores individual perceptions of the same world, inviting the reader to experience a multitude of viewpoints. The narrative is somewhat disjointed and the narrator often switches from third person to first, and from focusing on one character and their reality to another. Nonetheless, it presents a much fuller picture of the events within the novel and gives a rare view into the psychological disposition of the novel’s protagonists.

Moreover, the detailed descriptions within the novel are not limited exclusively to the major events and occurrences. Fink tends to home in of the menial, day-to-day activities of human life, making the novel as much about the characters – their lives, minds and relationships – as it is about the story itself. In doing so, Fink succeeds in capturing his readers undivided attention.

The recurrent juxtaposed images and thoughts within the novel do, on occasion, leave one in a state of confusion and uncertainty. Many of the characters and their lives are left open-ended, inasmuch as they disappear from the story without a trace. Similarly, many threads to this invidious story are left unresolved. This is somewhat disappointing, despite being a deliberate endeavour on Fink’s part. After allowing one to become so intensely involved with the characters, and after permitting one to observe their inner thoughts, Fink cruelly points out that one is merely a spectator to this story and the lives of the characters involved.

If He Lived is unquestionably a disturbing story that explores the fear of both living and dying. It is nonetheless both compelling and captivating, poignantly bringing human reason and logic face to face with confused emotion and uncertainty: a truly remarkable novel, beautifully written with terrifyingly vivid images of human suffering and terror.

Reviewed by Michelle Clump


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