This piquant but remarkably unsettling tale centers on a father/daughter relationship that is fraught with difficulties and, in the end, goes horribly wrong. “You’re not a father. You’re a dictator. You’re a weird, creepy fascist,” screams
rebellious young Bryony to her father, Terrence Cave, as he hysterically holds her a prisoner in their home and increasingly tries to put the brakes on what she can and cannot do.
Terence’s capacity to articulate his own emotions comes forth in a mélange of suspicion and paranoia after a tragic accident takes the life of his only son, Rueben. While Rueben’s body lies cold on the pavement just outside Terence’s antique store, a group of boys stand around and watch him die. While Denny, Bryony’s working class boyfriend, is among the group, only he expresses a measure of regret at the horrific events that led up to Rueben’s tragic fall from the lamppost.
Denny’s shame does little to alleviate Terence’s devastating loss and his violent need to seek recompense. Although Reuben always existed
in the shadow of his older and more talented sister, Bryony now becomes the man’s
sole focus: she’s the only one who remains alive out of all four people who Terence
Desperate to keep his daughter close and safe, Terence zealously assumes the role of the guardian angel, trying his best to ward off the corruptive forces of the night
- especially that of Denny, who seems to have developed a dangerous emotional stranglehold over the girl. Denny, however, is unrelenting in his pursuit of Bryony. Gradually succumbing to the boy’s affection, the girl cannot help
being drawn along by his rough-and-tumble charisma, perhaps driven in part by her own sense of rebellion and disgust at her father’s evermore controlling ways.
Cynthia, Terence’s mother-in-law, is the only voice of empathy. She frantically tries to assuage Terence as he gravitates slowly from anger to despair and then into depression - not just at the loss of Reuben but also that of his precious daughter. A trip to Rome does little to mitigate Bryony’s simmering resentment against her father, and soon enough Terence is following her into seedy underbelly of York, where he spies her hanging out in sordid rock clubs with Denny and his mates.
Things begin to fall apart when, accompanied by a darkening sense of vision and black flies, the ghost of Reuben begins to whisper in Terence’s ear: “Look dad, I’m getting stronger.” Terence is a cultured and honorable man, but in the end he’s crippled by his inability to find or express any type of intimate love for his daughter.
His lead character a man who reeks of bourgeois snobbery, Haig unfurls Terence’s dilemma with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but perhaps that’s the point. The reader is given a front row seat in this searing portrayal of a man living on the edge and beset with hurt as his mind and sense of reality slowly fracture. Terence’s most fatal flaw is that he’s blinded by his thousand prejudices and refuses to acknowledge his own nature. He’s a damaged, embittered soul who confuses his desire to protect his daughter with his fervent desire to possess her.