THE IMITATION OF PATSY BURKE, John J. GaynardInteresting stuff. I mean, it’s not often you stumble across a review of a crime novel that name-checks Jesus, Karl Marx, Caravaggio, Nietzsche and Dante, is it? Or am I just leading too sheltered a life these days?
Booze, brawls, sex and schizophrenia—such is the artist’s life in Paris, according to this raucous satire.
When Patsy Burke, a world-famous Irish sculptor living in France, wakes up in his hotel with his body torn and bloody and no recollection of how it got that way, he’s not particularly surprised. A raging alcoholic given to beating up pimps in Paris dives, he’s used to blackouts and drunk tanks. Unfortunately, his latest bender has left a dead man in its wake, and Patsy’s attempt to piece together what he’s been doing for the last few days triggers a reckoning with his past and his demons. Said demons take the form of bickering voices inside his head, including Caravaggio, a Nietzchean figure who eggs on Patsy’s fistfights and womanizing; Goody Two-Shoes, a prim woman who castigates his atrocious treatment of friends and lovers; a wispy romantic named Forget Me Not; and a scary demiurge called the Chopper, whose insistent promptings to behead women with a meat cleaver are barely fended off by the remnants of Patsy’s sanity. These clashing personae narrate Patsy’s violent picaresque and roiling internal conflicts; he’s bombastic, selfish, preening and cynical, yet steeped in Irish-Catholic guilt. (His downward spiral was touched off when he learned that a statue he made of Jesus being sodomized by two monks—meant as a protest against clerical abuses—is now presiding over orgies conducted by Vatican pedophiles.) Patsy’s saga is plenty lurid—”You bit off his right ear and you spat it out”—yet the author’s pristine prose keeps it under control. Despite the tale’s almost Dantean excesses, Gaynard makes the tone ironic and droll—during an odyssey through the Parisian demimonde, Patsy finds himself discussing Marxist development economics with a glamorous prostitute—and registers delicate shadings of his antihero’s psychic travails. The result is an entertaining, over-the-top farce that still draws readers in with pathos. - Kirkus Reviews
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