Review by Heather Farmer.
The tragi-comic tale of Christian de Palma, Man of Letters by Philip Newey.
The tragi-comic tale of Christian de Palma: Man of Letters is a page-turner – one of those stories you find yourself reading long into the night.
There are reasons for this. The language is deceptively simple, the narrative flows effortlessly, and the tension and suspense gradually intensifies. The characters have depth and a reality to them. It is a totally engaging story, eliciting a variety of emotions in the reader.
Christian de Palma is a classic anti-hero – a loner, a lost child, emerging from a dysfunctional childhood into manhood as an intelligent but cognitively flawed, mentally and emotionally disturbed character. He is a vulnerable, misunderstood, socially inept misfit, an outcast suffering all manner of indignities and injustices at the hands of the establishment, constantly misjudged by the perceptions and assumptions of others.
Christian de Palma, Man of Letters is both sad and funny. The reader experiences a gamut of emotions – dismay at the misfortunes Christian has to endure, admiration for his quiet, inner strength and determination, but the fact he is a catalyst for chaos is highly amusing.
Christian interacts with several other characters, all well-drawn personalities, most of them well meaning and with good intentions, but all incapable of penetrating or changing his implacable mind, or helping him focus beyond his obsessions. The significance and inevitable impact of his actions, intentions and decisions are clear to the reader but not perceived by Christian himself.
Christian’s story is a tragi-comic indictment of ‘the system’ – as ‘professionals’, and ‘experts’, misjudge him, let him down and fail him. It is more tragic irony with absurdist elements than farce because of the reality of his limitations of mind, emotions, life and lifestyle. We feel for him and pity him, even as we are amused, disgusted and horrified by him.
Philip Newey’s Christian de Palma, Man of Letters is a totally engrossing novel.