Friday, 27 November 2015

Forgotten Book - The Man Who Lost His Wife

The Man Who Lost His Wife, first published in 1970, was the third of Julian Symons' "Man Who..." books. I remember that when I was a schoolboy, having loved the first two of the books, I eagerly awaited this one. I borrowed it from the town library as soon as it came into stock, eager for another witty story and complex plot. Unfortunately for young Martin, Symons was trying something rather different and experimental here, and I was disappointed.

Recently, I decided to give the book another try. When I was a teenager, I was even keener on complex plotting than I am now, and certainly much less interested in books that are character studies. My tastes have matured - to some extent, anyway! - and this time I had a clearer understanding of what Symons was trying to do.

Gilbert Welton has inherited the family publishing business. It's an upmarket company, with a decent list, but Gilbert is dissatisfied with his lot, even if he does not at first realise this himself. He is, deep down, annoyed that he has followed in the footsteps of his dynamic father, and struggles to impose his own outlook, or even to be sure what his own attitudes are. He also becomes alarmed when Virginia, his second wife, indicates that she is discontented, and is planning to go away on her own for a while.

There are some good comic scenes, especially involving an avant garde American novelist, before the mood darkens. Gilbert goes to Dubrovnik in search of Virginia - this was when Yugoslavia was a Communist country - and finds his life becoming increasingly complicated. Eventually, he finds himself contemplating murder...

It's quite an interesting book, perhaps betraying, to an extent, the influence of Patricia Highsmith, but Symons' gifts were not the same as Highsmith's. I felt as a schoolboy that the plot was too slender and that Gilbert was much less interesting than the protagonists of the earlier "Man Who..." book. After all this time, my views haven't really changed. I found it interesting to read this novel, but once again I was disappointed, even though I admire authors who experiment rather than blandly following a formula all the time. Symons could do so much better - and after this flawed experiment, he soon returned to form.

1 comment:

Mathew Paust said...

Funny how stuff changes as we get older. For some perhaps the man in the title of this one might be considered a lucky man.