Andrew O'Hagan - Our Fathers (1999)
- Paul Cuddihy
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
Our Fathers is a book about politics, religion, urban regeneration and decay, and identity, both personal and national. More than anything else, however, to me it is a novel about men. Andrew O'Hagan has got inside the psyche of the west of Scotland male and created a story which lays it bare; the anger, violence, repressed emotions, disjointed relationships, unfulfilled dreams but also the sensitivity and love that occasionally creeps through in unguarded moments.
There are three generations in Our Fathers. There's Hugh Bawn, a socialist whose great achievement in life had been his role in the post-war rebuilding programme. However, the high-rise blocks that should have stood out as his crowning glory have become a symbol of decay. He is imprisoned and dying on the 18th floor of one of these concrete coffins. His son Robert is an alcoholic whose own life failed to live up to his father's expectations. 'I was never the son my da wanted,' Robert tells his son, Jamie after Hugh's death. How many Scottish men have said or thought the same?
Jamie arrives back in Ayrshire to visit his dying grandfather, the man who had offered salvation from the destructive nature of the boy's home life. Jamie is also involved in providing housing for the masses, though his vision remains at ground level, unlike Hugh's, which disappeared into the clouds. Hugh's death, inevitable from the beginning of the book, leads to the other two men reconnecting; not in a mawkish or Hollywood-style sentimental way, but in the muttered words and uncomfortable silences of the men in this part of the world. Our Fathers was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and is one of the finest, and most honest, Scottish novels of this or any other time.
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