Our Fathers by Andrew O’€™Hagan

Faber, 2000. 282p.

When he was young, to escape his alcoholic father, Jamie Bawn ran away from his home in Berwick to live with his grandparents in Ayrshire. His grandfather, Hugh, “Mr Housing,” was the major driving force behind the building of tower blocks in Scotland and encouraged the taking of short cuts in the construction process to get as many as possible built for the money in order to remove people from slums. The generation before, Hugh’s mother Effie was a turn of the century socialist famous for leading a rent strike. Now (in 1995) Jamie has returned to Ayrshire to be with his dying grandfather.

The ramifications of family relationships, how each succeeding generation reacts to – or against – the previous, are the theme of the book – though at one point it does seem that O’Hagan’s title may be more of a reference to the Lord’s Prayer. (Catholicism is a given in the two O’Hagan books I have read.)

As in his later novel Be Near Me O’Hagan has a priest making sexual advances on minors and makes light of it. This is a very small incident in Our Fathers, mentioned in passing, treated as a matter of fact, and as a result it reads oddly after the scandals revealed in recent years.

The meat of the novel is in Hugh Bawn’s unshakeable belief that what he did was for the best. This is something that is perhaps characteristic of those of a religious bent.

The prose can be opaque at times, as if O’Hagan was trying too hard. It was his first novel after all.

Not a lot happens in Our Fathers and the text does not quite live up to the claims made for it on the back cover. But O’Hagan can turn a sentence.

The subjects of other O’Hagan novels, one about a young woman clearly modelled on Lena Zavaroni and another narrated by Marilyn Monroe’s dog, do not appeal to me, however.

Span count:- 1. (We also had swang – as the past tense of swing – which I confess I’d never heard of before but a few online dictionaries give as archaic or now chiefly dialect.)

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