Son to the Father is, as the title suggests, a novel about relationships. There is the blood relationship between Peter, a twenty-something teacher marking time at a TEFL college in Camden, and his father Edward, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War and now an embittered ex-revolutionary. It is a relationship characterised by a lack of communication and emotional sterility. At the same time Peter, despite his background and sexual ambiguity, is surprisingly successful and content as surrogate father to Jed, the son of his feckless and sultry flatmate Jacqui.
This is also a book about the making of a film. Jed unexpectedly lands a part in the debut film of a famed opera director, Carlos Tarifa, and it is natural that Peter should go along with Jacqui to chaperone the boy. The fact that the film is to be shot in northern Spain, where Edward spent his war-time years, is used to draw out the hidden aspects of Peter’s father’s character, and the temptations of Tarifa’s villa, a heady mix of glamour, license and opportunity, force Peter into facing the need for choice and commitment in his life.
The early passages of the book capture perfectly what it is to be youngish and struggling in modern-day London. There is a sense of cynicism, offset as often as possible by fragile enthusiasm, of small flats that keep out the city, and there is the occasional night of make-believe that becomes somehow surreal when seen in th dirty light of the morning after. But it is the Spanish section that really hooks the reader. The cast of sharklike producers, beautiful and available flunkies and temperamental scriptwriters, glitters beguilingly around Peter while his inability to bridge the gap between intention and action colours his perception of the motives and feelings of others. Peter, as narrator, cannot give insight into his acquaintances as he lacks the emotional sympathy to do so, but his confusion creates a multi-faceted milieu that is as ambiguous, and thus as fascinating, as he himself.
In Son to the Father, Tony Peake has created a complex inner journey towards a sense of self-identity, while at the same time using his hero’s inability to realise his own emotional potential to create a sense of tantalising beyondness. In denying the reader the staus of favoured observer he takes us closer than usual to the fictional world that has been created. We are forced to follow Peter step by step, never able to look ahead, and so share in his eventual reconciliation with his father and with himself.
Reviewed by Julian MacMillan