"There is more to fatherhood than blood," muses Leo, a famous TV personality now raising Pagan, the six-year-old daughter of his close friend, Candida. Candida has died, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of both daughter and "father," and more trouble is to come. Candida's adoptive parents, from whom she had been long estranged, insist on taking Pagan from Leo. They lose the first battle in court but win a second battle when Leo's homosexuality is revealed. Arditti, a novelist and theater critic living in London, has written a moving tale of love and commitment that repeatedly asks us what being a parent really means. The prose is lucid and low-key, the characters a bit quirky and absolutely real, and Leo's pain is profoundly evident as he struggles to retrieve Pagan from her abusive grandparents and uncover the secretquite a surpriseof her paternity. A fine novel; recommended for most collections.Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Tackling a worthy subject, but with a long-winded polemic loosely disguised as a novel, British writer Arditti explores the question of proper parenting in a knock-down, drag-out custody battle between a child's legal but gay guardian and her grandparents.
When free-spirited photographer Candida dies in London after wasting away from a degenerative motor disease, her will dictates that care of her six-year-old daughter, Pagan, be left to Candida's best friend and longtime companion, Leo, a national celebrity and TV talk-show host. Since Leo isn't Pagan's father (Candida never revealed his identity), her adoptive, archconservative parents, from whom Candida has long been estranged, object; after losing the first round of legal encounters, they weigh in with evidence of Leo's homosexuality. Forced to admit being gay, turned into food for scandal in the tabloids, Leo loses custody, which proves to be only the beginning of his humiliation. When Pagan (renamed Patience) exhibits bizarre behavior after three months of living with her grandparents, Leo suspects sexual abuse, but his discreet inquiry into the matter backfires when he finds himself charged with the crime. Arrested and jailed, vilified in the press and on the street, with his career in a shambles, Leo becomes despondent; eventually, however, he has his day in court, where Pagan's videotaped testimony, seemingly so damaging to his case, points the finger at her grandfather instead. Society's darling once again, innocent Leo has the satisfaction of seeing the real villain, who proves to have abused Candida and her brother too, locked up, while Pagan and he resume their former life togetherbut not without some fresh surprises.
Force-feeding a message, no matter how laudable, makes it distinctly unpalatable; the problem is compounded here by a tale told at excessive length, featuring a protagonist almost unbelievably pure of heart.