Patsy Burke, a famous Irish sculptor in Paris, wakes in a small apartment hungover, battered and bruised and with a broken arm. He’s somewhat confused and has little recollection of the night before. Over the course of a morning, and with the aid of the cast of voices residing in his head (including The Scandal Man, Caravaggio, Goody Two-Shoes, Forget Me Not, The Chopper, The Observer) and Khadija, one of his lovers, he starts to piece together what happened and to situate it within the narrative of his life, which includes a boarding school in the north of England, the death of his sweetheart, three marriages, five daughters, a series of lovers, a kidnapping, squabbles with gallery owners, fights in bars, and an infamous sculpture that offended the Church and sold for millions of euro. Despite everything that has happened in his eventful life, it seems that the previous night he may have gone too far.
It took me a little while to get into The Imitation of Patsy Burke – both the storyline and the style. The story is an in-depth character study and the story unfolds through the various voices in Patsy’s head as it tries to reconcile the morning after with recollections of the afternoon and night before and the back story to the artist’s life. At first, I found the style somewhat awkward and contrived, but as the story progressed the style made more sense and I got drawn further and further into the narrative and by the end I was truly hooked, staying up way past when I would normally shut a book and turn off the lights, devouring pages until I reached the end. And a very nicely resolved end it is too, both somewhat inevitable and slightly out of left field. Whilst Burke is a character for which one feels little sympathy, the characterization and its unfolding is very well done, with the story well layered. The voices in Patsy’s head each have a distinctive voice and message and their bickering has an authentic tone (if voices in a head can have such a thing). The prose is nicely expressive throughout and is peppered with philosophical insights. If you like in-depth characterization, then The Imitation of Patsy Burke will provide good, if a little unusual, reading fodder.