Book Review: “The Imitation of Patsy Burke” by John J. Gaynard

World-renowned sculptor and hell-raiser Patsy Burke comes to in a cheap hotel in Paris covered in blood and with a broken arm—and no idea what happened the night before. Thus begins a journey through the bars of Paris, during which Patsy, with the help of a few “friends,” including Caravaggio and the Scandal Man, attempts to unravel the events of the previous day and night. Along the way, he relives the major occurrences of his past, most of which involve a combination of women, drink, and violence. Has he ever been truly responsible for the man he is, whether for his successes or for another crime he suspects he may have committed? His “friends” take him to breaking point. If he does not wish his life to finally come full circle, he must make one final, possibly fatal choice. (from Goodreads) 

One of the classic lines in “The Imitation of Patsy Burke” must be:  “What came first?  Was it the overdrinking or was it the voices?”(page 10).  If the reader has not figured it out by this early point in the novel, this quote ensures a better understanding of the narration.  The “voices”, the “friends”, exist within the very compelling mind of the main character, Patsy Burke; in actual fact, the only true character in the novel.  The other characters exist, but they exist within Patsy’s very complicated mind.  It is from this perspective that John J. Gaynard spins this tale of emotion, action, and vivid description.  The tone is raw, irreverent, racy, provocative, and infrequently loving. 

When I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author, it was in exchange for an impartial review.  At that time, I thought I was about to read an action packed thriller, with a psychological bent.  That was not how it turned out!  But the writer’s style caught my attention after only a couple of pages.  Then the plotline caught my eye, and I was hooked.   

Due to the use of offensive language, there were times when completion of the novel seemed out of reach.  Throw in some graphic violence, and it is not my pick for summer afternoon reading.  However, the author still held my attention.  You see, each of the voices in Patsy Burke’s mind, made up an aspect of Patsy’s personality.  The skill of the author is in holding the reader’s attention to see how all the voices fit together, and how the author can actually create quite a storyline, all from the voices in the lead character’s mind.  Are you intrigued yet?? 

As a word of caution, I would suggest that the reader keep in mind that this is a work of fiction – even though at times it reads like history.  I choose not to expand on that comment, as I try to avoid ‘spoilers’ in my book reviews. 

One skill of Gaynard’s is the ability to remain neutral throughout this book.  By that I mean, the reader is left guessing about Gaynard’s own history and personal beliefs.  And I think in a book of this nature that is key to the plotline and readability of the book itself.  Keep your mind open, and your wits sharp, and this book may be just what you are looking for! 

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Where is the Joy in the Written Word of this novel?  While not a ‘joy-less’ story, the word ‘Joy’ does not come to my mind in this instance.  If you have read, or do read, this novel, I invite you to leave me a comment on where you do, or do not see Joy.  And in all humility, John Gaynard, if you read this post, I truly welcome your thoughts on “The Imitation of Patsy Burke” and on where you see the Joy of the Written Word.

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Choose Joy! 

Patricia

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Book Review: “The Imitation of Patsy Burke” by John J. Gaynard

  1. Hi Patricia, I have now had the time to think about your invitation to say where I see the joy of the written word in Patsy Burke and here are a few thoughts (which I’ve also posted to my blog):

    Patricia Blomeley-Maddigan has had the kindness to give an honest review to my novel The Imitation of Patsy Burke, on her blog The Joy of the Written Word. The first sentence of her last paragraph, “Where is the Joy in the Written Word of this novel?” really got me thinking, as did her invitation to say where I see the joy of the written word in The Imitation of Patsy Burke.

    The paragraphs below explain the sort of thinking an author can put in the back of a character’s mind as s/he writes a novel, while knowing that if s/he makes the thinking too evident it may load down the novel and turn it into a piece of philosophy, unreadable as a work of fiction.

    As I wrote The Imitation of Patsy Burke, and after I’d finished it, I knew that it could be a harrowing read. But at the same time, I didn’t want to tone it down. I wanted to be honest: there are many lives which don’t have happy endings, or even clear endings. A successful life can turn to disaster in a matter of minutes or hours. One of the people I had in mind as I wrote the novel was John Galliano, the fashion designer, who fell from grace a while back. Another person was a close friend who, in spite of, or maybe because of, his genius as an artist, succumbed to his demons few years ago.

    My daily contact with that close friend showed me how behind the brilliant facade could lie a desperate, sordid reality as he tried to make sense of life, a reality which his admirers could never have dreamed existed. When John Galliano was overtaken by his demons, I could imagine, from the experience with my friend, nearly exactly what had happened. Although Galliano genuinely regretted what he had said, under the influence of drink, a bunch of politically correct thinkers who had never made an attempt of their own to improve the world, turned on him. As with many celebrities who falter (another one I can think of is Mel Gibson) there is never a lack of former sycophants willing to give them an extra kick on the way down. Former heroes are not usually allowed to fade away, the press and many of their erstwhile admirers turn them into scapegoats, load them down with their own sins and rejoice to see them in hell.

    Although I don’t want to draw exaggerated parallels between Patsy Burke and other works, the way in which Mel Gibson depicted The Passion of the Christ in the final twelve hours of his life, comes to mind. Jesus, whom every one had wanted to see as the son of God was reduced to a scapegoat, a whipping boy, deserted and denied by his disciples, who protested vehemently when it was suggested they had once followed the man. The final parts of the Gospels do not contain joy, but torture. The crucifixion, to my mind is not very well understood by 20th century Christians. Joy can be found in the words at the beginning of each Gospel, such as those in the Sermon on the Mount, but the final part of each of the four main books is a tale of agony and extremely painful death.

    The joy comes from the realization, after the fact, of what has happened. For the first time in human existence an innocent man had been put to death and had come back to tell the tale. Christianity, the religion built on the premise that it is wrong to scapegoat and kill innocent people, came into being. Nearly every other religion still eats sacrificed meat, but because of that one sacrifice of an innocent man the early Christians refused to touch “burnt offerings” and neither sacrifice nor scapegoating is accepted in mainstream Christianity today.

    The present day Church has done a very good job of airbrushing out of existence the fact that the first person to realize Jesus had come back to life was Mary Magdalene, the former prostitute, and not–as the priests would have us believe–Peter. But the New Testament contains too many hard facts for the truth to be completely hidden. It was when Mary discovered the empty tomb that the disciples who had run away began to believe and hope again. Because they opened their eyes to see, they saw again. Before that, for thousands of years, many innocent men had been deemed guilty and put to death–there are examples in nearly every civilization or religion. After their deaths, they were often transformed into idols, statues, Gods of Stone. Patsy Burke has many rude awakenings, and one of them is when he realizes that making statues out of Jesus, whatever his good intentions, may run counter to his beliefs and play into the hands of Jesus’s enemies.

    As Patricia pointed out in her review, as an author I remain neutral. But the paragraphs above contain a good description of Patsy Burke’s thoughts, when he was thinking rationally. The real joy in the novel and the hope that life may change, comes from the meeting with the two prostitutes. Patsy, the pale imitation of the man he loves, goes over the top, but perhaps he will gain control again, thanks to those two women.

    I was pleasantly surprised at the Kirkus Review which didn’t concentrate on the alcohol, the violence and Patsy Burke’s multiple betrayals, but saw the book as a “A rich, darkly comic send-up of the art world and the megalomaniacal souls that populate it,” but I knew that many readers would not see it in that light. So, I thank Patricia for giving me this opportunity to show where hope and, perhaps joy, can be found for Patsy Burke and the reader.

    • “…. makes the thinking too evident it may load down the novel and turn it into a piece of philosophy, unreadable as a work of fiction.”
      Thank you for putting this in words, John, it rings true to my comment :
      “…. keep in mind that this is a work of fiction – even though at times it reads like history.” Your writing could definitely turn into a piece of philosophy.
      I like your comments about hope, as well as joy, they are both such important states of mind, even though I did not make the hope connection directly. But it is definitely part of the story.
      Thank you for your in depth comments, which I know others will appreciate as much as I do.

      Thank you, John
      Patricia

  2. Patricia,

    Thank you very much for this book review. I’m glad that, in spite of the strong language and the violence, you found the book to be of interest. Your comments have given me good food for thought. I will put some excerpts from your article on my blog soon. Best wishes, John

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