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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495

Wilfred Barclay has had a very successful career as a novelist. His first book was both a popular and a critical success. Subsequent works have done well, but in later years he has coasted on his reputation and has given in to his propensity for heavy drinking. Although he has...

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Wilfred Barclay has had a very successful career as a novelist. His first book was both a popular and a critical success. Subsequent works have done well, but in later years he has coasted on his reputation and has given in to his propensity for heavy drinking. Although he has had a decent respect for his own work, he has not thought in terms of literary immortality. He seems, rather, to enjoy living in comfort in the country with his wife, Elizabeth.

Barclay’s whole life and his view of his career begin to change radically with the appearance of an American academic, Rick L. Tucker. Invited to Barclay’s home for dinner, Tucker stays the night and is caught rifling through Barclay’s garbage for the discarded pieces of the novelist’s literary output. Disturbed by the ruckus between Barclay and Tucker, Elizabeth discovers the men struggling in the kitchen in a kind of embrace. Actually Barclay has mistaken the hairy Tucker, on his knees rooting about in garbage, for a badger.

Elizabeth wrests from Tucker the scrap of paper he has managed to extract from the garbage. Rather than a rejected draft of a literary work, the paper turns out to be a fragment of a Barclay letter to a former mistress. Barclay, whose pajama bottoms have fallen to the floor in his wrestling with Tucker, is literally caught with his pants down. Tucker’s intrusion into his home leads to Barclay’s divorce from Elizabeth and to a turning point in his literary career, for Tucker’s aspiration to be Barclay’s official biographer forces the novelist to reflect deeply on the farcical nature of his life and work.

Much of the remainder of the novel concerns Rick L. Tucker’s pursuit of Wilfred Barclay. Although the novelist is flattered to be considered worthy of a biography, his predominant attitude is one of disdain for the oafish but predatory American academic. As Barclay moves from one location to the next—becoming a world traveler in his efforts to escape not only Tucker but also his doubts about his own worthiness—he gradually bankrupts whatever spiritual reserves he has come to rely upon. He writes little and seems unable to form enduring relationships.

Eventually Tucker catches up with Barclay and tries to entice the novelist into an agreement naming Tucker as authorized biographer. Tucker even appears to lure Barclay into a contract by offering his new young wife for the writer’s pleasure. Just when Barclay seems most revolted by Tucker’s crude tactics, the would-be biographer saves his subject from falling to his death on an Alpine slope (or so it appears at the time). Although Barclay is grateful to Tucker—indeed, he confesses that he owes his life to him—Barclay again escapes. This time, however, on his travels he evolves a plan to best his biographer, and the novel ends with Barclay’s and Tucker’s final and startling rendezvous.

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