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Mr. Golightly's Holiday
By Sally Vickers
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
HC, 356 pg. US$24
ISBN: 0-3742-1489-1

A working holiday

By Steven Martinovich
web posted January 26, 2004

Mr. Golightly's HolidayMr. Golightly is an internationally renowned author with one of the biggest selling books of all time to his credit. Unfortunately, he hasn't written anything in many years, busy due to the duties of an international business he runs -- one facing pressure from a former employee who left to start his own enterprise, and his one hit is beginning to look a little dated and falling out of favor with readers. In an attempt to revive his writing career, he decides to take a holiday in rural England in the village of Great Calne, where he hopes to adapt his great work for a modern audience.

That is how we are introduced to the protagonist in Sally Vickers' Mr. Golightly's Holiday, a novel that starts off somewhat disappointingly but manages to redeem itself during its second half. For readers made of stern enough stuff to brave a dense thicket of over-written passages early on, they will be rewarded by a touching story with what will undoubtedly be a surprising twist for many. Mr. Golightly, who to all eyes is an unremarkable middle-aged English gentleman on holiday, is in fact shrouded in mystery.

Unfortunately for Mr. Golightly, Great Calne is filled with distractions. A troubled village boy named Johnny Spence, who reminds him of his dead son, ingratiates himself into Golightly's life and helps him with everything from research to fixing his stove. His neighbour, Ellen Thomas, is a suffering widow who has given up on painting and quietly waits to die herself. Luke is a fellow writer who is struggling to write a Native American creation epic but with little success. To add to his problems, Golightly begins receiving curious e-mails with messages that seem familiar and yet menacing at the same time.

Those distractions, however, prove to be a godsend to him. As he begins to learn more about his neighbours and the events in their lives, he begins to reevaluate his own attitudes towards the issues raised in his work. In particular, Johnny and Ellen are the central focus of much of the novel and it is through Golightly's interactions with them that he learns more about a world that he has fallen out of touch with. It's not just e-mail or the idea of female priests that he has problems understanding, its universal concerns of humanity like love and death.

Gradually, Golightly's real identity is revealed to the reader, though the clever will likely pick up on the subtle hints that Vickers weaves into her story. In start contrast to the first half of the novel, which is oftentimes heavy with ponderous descriptions, Vickers treats this revelation with remarkable delicacy and skill. It's doubtless that her portrayal of Golightly won't go over particularly well with some readers. Golightly, despite who he really is, seems often puzzled and entirely human. Even his idea of rewriting his best seller, a book he notes men had once died for the right to read, as a soap opera to appeal to modern tastes betrays his disconnect from those who once accepted him unquestioningly.

Mr. Golightly's Holiday does falter somewhat near the end with an ill-advised chapter that sees Golightly meet up with his business rival, whose identity is now apparent since we know who the protagonist is, but for the most part it is a strong effort. In a recent interview Vickers argued that readers are tired of "chick lit and men behaving badly," that they are once again craving more substantial fiction. Whether Vickers' third novel lives up to that is up to the individual reader to decide but she should be lauded for pondering more worthy subjects than men unable to commit to relationships or roman à clefs about the fashion industry.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

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