Exquisite Escapism – The Posthumous Affair by James Friel

Posted by Justine Solomons on 12 September 2012, in Recommendations

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Review by Justine Solomons

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, devouring it in a single sitting. Like his previous novel, The Higher Realm, Friel shows sensitivity to society's outsiders and imbues the story with a sense of the macabre. Henry James is a strong influence in this novel and with the central theme of unrequited love I couldn't help thinking about Colm Toibin's characterization of the chaste and lonely James in his bio-novel, The Master.

The Posthumous Affair opens in New York, where the handsome Little Man meets the Fat Princess and together they play with a red balloon in Washington Square.  Despite her youth, she falls in love, a love that will persist throughout her life as she travels to Venice, and then to other countries before returning to Italy. But it is a painful love, one that is unlikely to be fully appreciated in this lifetime.  This book is not only about physical love, but also about the love of writing. Both protagonists become novelists: first the Fat Princess, and then, with her patronage, the Little Man.

A central theme of this book is the potential of fiction to create a world richer than the one we live in. In place of living fully herself, the Fat Princess plunders the lives of others, paying people for their life stories as subject matter for her books.  But it is not only the central characters who are so affected by the power of fiction. Friel himself, and by implication you, the reader, participate in the admission that books are sometimes safer than human relationships; it is only in reading and perhaps writing them that we can escape our lumpen misshapen bodies and fly.


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