Book Review: Close to Hugh by Marina Endicott

Book Review: Close to Hugh by Marina Endicott

Review by John Spychka

Title: Close to Hugh
Author: Marina Endicott
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
ISBN: 9780385678605

Marina Endicott’s Close to Hugh explores the pain some people live when a loved one is terminally ill. The pain associated with the kaleidoscope of emotions that can oftetimes sink one to depths never before experienced.

Emotions that have been buried deep throughout an entire lifetime of constant denial and repression surge to the forefront of one’s life, demanding to be noticed, to be felt.

The story takes the reader through one week in Hugh Argylle’s tumultuous life. Hugh owns the Argylle Art Gallery in Peterborough, Ontario.

His homosexual foster brother, Newell, and his emotionally unstable foster sister, Della, try to help Hugh get through the final days of Hugh’s mother’s terminal illness the best they can. However, they have their own problems, and Hugh becomes a surrogate parent for them and others; he feels some sort of responsibility to look after those around him even though he cannot look after himself.

Hugh must come to terms with the fact that his dying mother, Mimi, was not a mother, that his childhood, and subsequent life, was destroyed by a selfish, ego-centric person who pretended to care for her son but did not, could not.

Mimi was a famous personality of sorts, an entertainer, meeting Trudeau, getting invitations from the Queen of England (Canada and a few other countries too), wearing expensive clothing, living the high life. But she was not a mother. Hugh has to face the fact that Mimi loved him in her way but not the way he needed to be loved.

Parents that chose their career—or their passion or their calling or their raison d’être, whatever excuse they convince themselves of—over their children and parental responsibilities more often than not set up their children for a life of misery, failure, and longing.

Close to Hugh is not an easy read. I would recommend it for the more academic reader and not for the general public. The style sometimes leaves the reader wondering what the author is trying to say and makes some of the characters difficult to follow.

If you are not an avid theatre buff or reader of plays, then many of the references will not be understood. This takes away from the story and makes the reader wonder if all the references are necessary. Hiding the story behind little known literary or artistic references can frustrate the average reader. This creates some kind of illusion or code that the reader must crack to fully appreciate this work.

What I liked about this book is how Endicott manages to capture the chaos of life. Although the timeline of the story is linear, the dialogue and narrative often seem random but, in fact, reflect how life just happens, beyond the control of the characters, with the unpredictability of a lottery ticket. The book reminds me of an abstract painting; a hazy mixture of colours and shapes that somehow work themselves out at the end.

If you do decide to pick up a copy of Close to Hugh, do not plan on reading it in one go. Plan to take your time to savour all the subtleties of Endicott’s prose and poetry. And it would not hurt to have the Internet handy to look up a reference or two.

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This review is kindly supported by:

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3400-SS2, CHEMIN DES QUATRE-BOURGEOIS
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