Maurice (Gough) Gee Susannah Clapp - Essay

Susannah Clapp

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Very little happens without deliberation in Maurice Gee's … [Games of Choice]: it comes as no surprise to discover that the "games" of its title are not fun—but more to do with the thwartings and false starts of the hero's life, and his careful consideration of the consequences.

Kingsley Pratt, whose generally gloomy voice grips the narrative, is a provincial New Zealand bookseller, who, having married above his station, finds himself the owner of a luxurious house and a complaining family. The unsatisfactoriness of his wife and children is unvarying, if not entirely comprehensive….

Real meanings behind actions and events are quickly unravelled: gifts are "communication" or possible "revelation"; metaphors are "weapons". These analyses are not without acuteness, but interpretation follows observation so quickly that a sense of what it is that is being interpreted is often drowned out. Kingsley's remark that "relationships seemed to set him on edge or disappoint him" is hardly astonishing: when every move is only an echo of a more profound grisliness—and is clearly seen to be so—the game hardly seems worth playing.

And when it comes to presenting choices the novel hedges its bets. Alison's barbecues and scented bathrooms are set against the life of Kingsley's working-class father, whose smelliness and lack of refinement lead to some improbably open scorn and his banishment to a Wendy-house at the bottom of the garden, where he dreams of revenge and mumbles about the Depression. He is the only other character apart from Kingsley allowed a proper say and when the rest of the family have separately betrayed and fled, he and Kingsley set up house together—a sort of Antipodean Steptoe and son, with Dad watching telly and Kingsley, whose heart lurches at "a perfectly chosen word", reading Keats.

Susannah Clapp, "Grisly Business," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3878, July 9, 1976, p. 860.