3 out of 4 stars
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The Undeparted by Timothy Watkinson is a work of literary fiction. The novel begins with John, an odd man with some egregious mental illnesses that hinder his daily activities. Most notably, John has an aggressive form of obsessive compulsive disorder; he always feels dirty and must sanitize himself and his possessions. On a seemingly normal day, John runs into Ricky, an acquaintance from grade school. With this brief encounter, John’s life quickly changes as he is forced to interact on an entirely new social level. John finds himself attending parties, going to pubs, mingling with the upper-academic echelon, and even romantically involved with a beautiful woman, much to the dismay of Ricky and his colleagues.
Set against the academic backdrop of a university, Watkinson uses his characters to give readers a brutally honest look at the human condition. As John spearheads his way through his new relationships, while dealing with the prison that is his own mind, additional characters are quickly thrown into the mix, and the narrative perspective is equally distributed. We become privy to the inner thoughts of Ricky, Ellen (Ricky's wife), and Ricky’s academic colleague Peter. Although none of these characters are likable in the traditional sense, the flaws of the characters are what make them engaging and worth reading about. This book is like a terrible accident one cannot look away from: Ricky is incredibly selfish, Peter is cluelessly self-absorbed, Ellen is constantly questioning her life, and John is painfully unskilled at almost everything. However, Watkinson beautifully portrays the candid thoughts of each of these characters and plays towards the intricacies of each character’s psyche.
However, there was one character whose perspective was missing. Margaret, the beautiful secretary that all the men seem to desire, becomes romantically involved with John. Margaret is a single mother to a curious little girl, Rosie, and she comes across as intelligent and self-sufficient. Watkinson focuses heavily on one of these relationships: John becomes a quasi-caretaker to Rosie, and the development of their relationship was quite poignant. The juxtaposition between John, with his lack of social skills, and Rosie, with her inability to see John as anything other than a friend, was portrayed extremely well. However, the relationship between John and Margaret suffered from the lack of Margaret’s perspective. I was left with too many questions. Mostly, what were Margaret’s motives, and why did she continue to be involved with such a strange man? However, maybe it was Watkinson's intention to leave this relationship so vague, thus adding a sense of mystery to the story.
As for the writing, the author masterfully keeps the story moving. The characters are introduced fluidly and with intention, and the use of short chapters helped pique my interest. Further, the story is imbued with colloquial language appropriate for the British setting, creating a truly immersive narrative. I also enjoyed the use of common themes found in a typical university scene: age disparities, gender inequality, and narcissism are just some of the major themes used to propel the plot forward.
Unfortunately, The Undeparted did not appear to be professionally edited. I found numerous errors throughout the text; however, these errors only slightly impacted my enjoyment of the novel. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the psychological elements of the story, the relevant societal themes, and the eccentricities of the characters, the editorial issues force me to rate The Undeparted 3 out of 4 stars. Despite its flaws, I highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy literary fiction about the human condition and don’t mind a few unlikable characters. However, due to some adult content, I only recommend this book to a mature audience.
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