Connor Gilmartin's inauspicious, but much beloved, mortal life comes to an untimely end when he discovers his wife in bed with one of his more ludicrous associates, Randall Allard Going. Death becomes a bit complicated when Gilmartin's out-of-body experience stays an out-of-body experience. Enraged at being so unceremoniously cut down, he avenges himself against his now panic-stricken murderer.
It was an odd combination. I enjoyed the poetry and erudition of the musings, although there were times it seemed to bog down the narrative. The stories of the various characters in history ranged from fascinating through to really not very interesting at all. I am not sure it hung together very well and although I smiled at Gil's attempt to get through to his wife via the medium, the ending felt a little disjointed. My overall impression was that the purpose of the book was to discuss and illustrate the fact that each life is composed of a personal struggle where other people play bit parts, cameos or roles but never really understand the nature of the personal struggle which is going on within. This is the inevitable part of life. It takes death and a journey through his past for Gil to understand it, but most other people don't.
This is only my second book by Davies, having read Fifth Business previously. I did not enjoy this book nearly as much that forst book in the Deptford Trilogy- and need to get back to completing that trio soon. After that, I have a feeling I will come away more impressed with Davies' work than I am with Murther & Walking Spirits.
Having been murdered by his wife's lover in the first sentence of the book, Connor 'Gil' Gilmartin becomes a ghost, the walking spirit of the title. In life he was an editor at a Toronto newspaper, and he is murdered by the paper's theatre reviewer, and in death he finds himself sitting next to his murderer at a film festival, but he isn't watching the same films as the rest of the audience. Instead, he sees the stories of some of his ancestors, in Europe and North America, complete with voice-overs, montages and split screen effects, just like a real movie.
Gil sees how his ancestors' experiences, including religion (he comes from a long line of Methodists), bankruptcies, unhappy marriages and manipulative parents have shaped his paternal relatives and himself, but there isn't a strong plot to tie the stories together, and after a strong start in 18th century New York, they seem to become less and less interesting. The ending feels somewhat flat, with no explanation about why Gil has been shown these particular ancestors' stories, or big revelation about what will happen to him next. Not one of my favourites by this author.
Commodes, chastely concealing a chamber-pot for use in a lady's bedroom, might have quite a Gothic air about them, so that the infrequent pleasure of defecation- - the displacement of the Victorian female tappen- - was enhanced by a sense of historical continuity.
(A tappen is an obstruction, or indigestible mass, found in the intestines of bears and other animals during hibernation. Also referred to as a "rectal plug." They make it difficult for the animal to defecate during hibernation, but are often passed with great pain in the spring time.per Wikipedia)
Now I suppose the mark of a great writer isn't that they use obscure words but what makes Davies great is that he uses those words so precisely that you can't imagine any other wording. Tappen sounds so much more refined than rectal plug which is exactly what those using the Victorian commodes would want.
Anyway, I digress. The book is about the afterlife of Connor Gilmartin, a journalist and head of the Arts department of a Toronto newspaper, who was dispatched by his wife's lover when he discovered them in flagrante in his bedroom. The lover, nicknamed the Sniffer, wasn't so much concerned about being discovered as by the use of his nickname when Gilmartin utters these last words "Oh Esme, not the Sniffer." Gilmartin is somewhat surprised at being able to see and hear everything even though he is most definitely dead. He watches his wife shoo off the Sniffer and then call the police. He attends his own funeral. Then he decides to accompany the Sniffer while he is covering a festival of old movies. While the Sniffer is watching oldie goldies Gilmartin views movies that are more personal. He sees his ancestors as if they were actors in a movie and learns to understand more about them and what went into his making. Although his life was cut short it is safe to say that he will prosper in his afterlife because of what he learns. The Sniffer, on the other hand, finds no surcease from the guilt he feels as a murderer.
An excellent book and I think anyone with roots going back several generations in this country will be able to relate to it as an historical novel. Those who want to dig deeper will find much to ponder.
Gil Gilmartin walked in on his wife and her lover who whacked Gilmartin with a weapon concealed in his walking stick, killing him instantly. Gilmartin immediately realizes he is dead yet able to watch, unseen, as his wife and the lover, Allard Going, nicknamed the Sniffer, try to cover up the murder. Then, after this excellent opening, the story goes in a different direction. Gilmartin, like Going, is a newspaper film critic and follows Going to a film festival only to find his viewing is different from any other. His films detail his ancestors from the American Revolution to modern times. It is an examination of how Gilmartin - or Davies, as the film is said to have closely followed Davies' own origins - came to be the person he is - or was, in this case.
As a perusal of personal history, it must have been fascinating for Davies, but while I found some parts quite interesting, other sections were less so. Reading slowed, interest lagged. However, the ending was perfect. The lineage continues and the pretentious Sniffer receives fitting justice. Entertaining, but this turned out to be my least favourite from Davies.