(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Its style as richly complex as that of GERONTIUS, his first novel, James Hamilton-Paterson’s GRIEFWORK is a melancholy narrative about Leon, the curator of the glass Palm House in the botanical gardens of an unnamed country’s capital in northern Europe.

He begins his journey to this distinction on a bleak littoral of the North Sea helping his uncle smoke fish. When Dr. Koog, a Dutch scientist, comes to Flinn, the town near which Leon lives, to do research on fish, Leon learns from him how science categorizes the abundance of nature. He also falls in love with Cou Min, the Asian daughter of Koog’s servant.

It is Leon’s fate to lose the women he treasures. His mother dies in a freak accident when he is a child, Cou Min leaves with the Koogs before Leon can bring his love for her to fruition, and Princess Imluk, a diplomat, returns to her country in the tropics before Leon, now the curator of the Palm House, can respond to her invitation to accompany her.

It is also Leon’s fate to be confined to the tropical climate of the Palm House, for his lungs are not up to the cold weather. In this small and exotic environment, he is master, conversing in his mind with his plants, informing the night visitors to the Palm House about them, and bluntly controlling their movements in it.

Self-taught about the plants in his care and about the history of greenhouses, Leon saves the Palm House from the illusions of outsiders and...

(The entire section is 440 words.)