Hi Patrick McGrath, thanks for phoning this foetus of a novel in!
Was this written on a napkin during a barbecue on a long weekend? Because this is what it felt like. There was a good idea or two in it, but everything, including the writing, felt so stunted.
My friend suggested that maybe ‘Constance’ is a satire on Freudian case studies. This was a very interesting and charitable interpretation but I think this book takes itself way too seriously to be a satire or pastiche of anything.
What do we have there? A young woman with ‘daddy issues’ who marries an older guy. There are quite obvious secrets to be revealed and so much melodrama it could be enough for at least 30 episodes of Jersey Shore. The perspective changes from Constance to her husband but God knows why, because Constance has absolutely nothing to reveal about her feelings or emotions. It seems like the author believes that women are such mysterious, esoteric creatures that they are in fact a mystery to themselves. Her narrative voice was childlike (despite the fact, she was supposed to be an editor, so should be fairly eloquent) and it was a grand mess with only one clear message ‘I hate Daddy! Why didn’t he love me?’
On the other hand, the husband changes between mansplaining Constance’s emotions and her ‘psyche’ to the reader and telling us she is impenetrable and he can’t understand her.
It is not that the characters were unlikeable, as I don’t have any problem with that - I’m not reading books to make friends (and if you do, then I suggest you go out more). The issue was that the characters were incongruous, they didn’t make sense most of the time. They were affected by things that shouldn’t affect them, and ignored the things that should really make an impact on them.
The plot was also all over the place, as if the author forgot that things in books should happen for a reason. If you make something happen, there should be some aftermath. In ‘Constance’ too many things happened and too few of them had any consequence.
I gave the book two stars because there were a few ideas that could be good if they were developed properly, and there were a few scenes that felt powerful and were in fact wasted on this mediocre at best novel. I’m not giving up on Patrick McGrath yet because some people promised me that he has written way better books than this potboiler.