Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

On one level, the novel is Wilfred Barclay’s autobiography. Rick Tucker’s pursuit of him has forced him to consider the significance of his life. Barclay often resorts to the word “farce” to describe the way his serious pursuits have been transformed into comedy. He is clearly in the right when he confronts Tucker rummaging in the garbage, yet the garbage yields up the refuse of Barclay’s life; and the strange, struggling embrace of the two men that Elizabeth observes is prophetic of their similarities as well as their differences. After all, as a novelist Barclay has used the stuff of other people’s lives in his writing. It is appropriate, then, that as he tries to escape from Tucker, he should almost fall off a mountain slope only to be saved by his biographer. In a very profound sense, the writer creates public interest in himself, and the public sustains him even as it wishes to invade his privacy.

As an act of revenge, Barclay has decided to write his own biographical novel describing Tucker’s place in his life. His purpose is to humiliate the biographer but also to absolve himself of the responsibility for having enticed Tucker back into his life by promising to sign the contract for an authorized biography. The surprise ending of the novel should not be revealed, except to say that Barclay cannot succeed in writing Tucker into his biography without accepting the real-life consequences of Tucker’s now savage insistence that he be...

(The entire section is 545 words.)