To celebrate Father's Day this coming Sunday, I've put together a list of books that examine the role of a father in literature and in life. From complicated father-son relationships to daddy's girls, the father figure is a compelling one - below are some of the best (and one or two not-so-great ones).
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I've commented in a previous post on my affection for Atticus Finch as a character and role model for fathers. What I particularly like in Harper Lee's portrayal of him is that there are occasions where Atticus and his daughter do not see eye to eye; the narrative is coloured by Scout's perceptions, and it is only after the fact that she realises her father was in the right all along. One excellent example of this is when Atticus forces Scout to spend time each day reading to their cantankerous old neighbour, for seemingly no reason at all - but of course, Atticus knows better.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The story of a father and son's journey across a post-apocalyptic America, The Road uses economy of plot and language to show the simplest and most profound of relationships. The father in this story is the kind of man who would throw himself in front of a train to save his own son. It's a rather grim read, yes, but an incredibly moving one too.
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
The protagonist of this novel and three more after it is Jackson Brodie: ex-army, ex-police, private detective and most importantly father to Marlee. Whilst the core plot of the novel centres on investigating murders and disappearances, Kate Atkinson uses the relationship between Jackson and his daughter to speak out against the sexualisation of preteens and to comment on the loss of innocence that seems to be occurring at a younger age in each generation. Burdened by the knowledge of what some men are capable of doing to young girls, Jackson is torn between keeping Marlee in blissful ignorance and preparing her for potential danger. If all little girls must grow up, he muses in my favourite passage, why can't they all turn into action heroines like Ripley and Sarah Connor?
A Spot Of Bother by Mark Haddon
I must admit to reading this novel with a growing sense of frustration. The soap opera style plot centres around a family that threatens to fall apart in the lead-up to daughter Katie's wedding. Mother Jean is having an affair and son Jamie is in the middle of his own romantic crisis. But the father, George, takes the biscuit. He chooses this time to descend into madness, convincing himself he is dying of cancer and running away to live in a hotel. If he were my dad, I'd have cut off contact a long time ago.
Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale
Patrick Gale's novel is ostensibly about Rachel Kelly, a bi-polar artist and mother, and the aftermath of her death. In her children's recollections, Rachel is remembered as both their favourite person and a tyrant, depending on her state of mind. Forever in the background of the story is Rachel's Quaker husband Antony, a quiet and unassuming man who, it soon becomes clear, is a constant source of strength and support for the entire family.