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Our Fathers: A Novel by the Author of The Missing Hardcover – October 7, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1st edition (October 7, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151004943
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151004942
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,287,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In literature, at least, most family sagas conform to a fairly simple pattern: rise and fall. Seldom, however, does this narrative arc take so concrete a shape as it does in Our Fathers. The hero of Andrew O'Hagan's first novel has spent the postwar era preaching the virtues of modern housing: "Most of the high-rises on the west coast of Scotland were made, or inspired, out of Hugh Bawn's zeal, and his tireless days as a housing boss. A priest of steel decking and concrete was Hugh." Yet the novel is narrated by this master builder's grandson, Jamie, who happens to make his living as an urban demolition expert. More than once he's helped to tear down the very edifices his grandfather erected--setting off both literal and Oedipal explosions in the process.

Now, however, Hugh is on his deathbed, and Jamie has returned to Ayrshire to make peace with the old man. Not surprisingly, he also finds himself reckoning with the shadow of his father--a brutal drunk who managed to alienate three generations of the family in one go. As its title suggests, O'Hagan's novel is primarily a meditation on paternity, which in Scotland, anyway, seems to amount to the kiss of death:

In my father's anger there was something of the nation. Everything torn from the ground; his mind like a rotten field.... Our fathers were made for grief. They were broken-backed. They were sick at heart, weak in the bones. All they wanted was the peace of defeat. They couldn't live in this world. They couldn't stand who they were.
To his credit, Jamie can hardly stand who he is, either: he senses that grief and weakness aren't merely national conditions but human ones. And as Andrew O'Hagan's mouthpiece, he attains some splendid rhetorical heights. Yet his voice gets muffled, and sometimes silenced entirely, by the author's multigenerational ambitions. There are too many Bawns in this novel, too many tales, and too many miserable transactions between father and son. O'Hagan's prose is perhaps worth the price of admission. Yet Our Fathers, like the Scots communities that Jamie so explosively reshapes, is itself a victim of excessive sprawl. --James Marcus

From Publishers Weekly

Scottish writer O'Hagan's first book, The Missing, was a well-received nonfictional compound of memoir and journalism on the subject of missing persons. Now, switching competently to fiction, he has produced a family melodrama and novel of social consciousness spanning four generations. Jamie Bawn's grandfather, Hugh, better known as "Mr. Housing" from his days as Labour's Public Works mastermind, is dying in a grim flat in one of the many Glasgow high-rises he erected in the name of progress. To Hugh's pride and dismay, Jamie has followed in his footsteps and, after briefly deserting Glasgow for Liverpool, is now assisting with the demolition of his grandfather's buildings, for the good of a new generation. As he nears death, Hugh is under investigation for cutting corners in the construction of his utopian towers, but Jamie knows that though the allegations are true, Hugh intended to pass his savings on to needy tenants. In a bedside vigil lasting many weeks, Jamie devotes himself to his grandfather, their sparring underlaid with prickly affection. Jamie also reminisces about his father, Robert, a crude and abusive drunkard who hated his son, and Hugh's mother, Effie, the family's first idealist, who led rent strikes in Glasgow's tenements during WWI. If Jamie and Hugh are too strong as individuals (and political animals) to reconcile completely, Jamie's watch over Hugh's last days gives him enough perspective to allow him to reestablish contact with his estranged father. O'Hagan's control over the Glaswegian idiom never slips as his characters tentatively get in touch with their feelings in most un-Scottish fashion. Skirting sentimentality and never indulging in it, Our Fathers deftly balances generational conflict with political struggles in a hardnosed, reform-minded Scotland. Author tour. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J C E Hitchcock on June 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Our Fathers" tells the story of the last few weeks in the life of Hugh Bawn, a once-powerful local politician. Bawn, an idealistic Socialist, was during the fifties, sixties and early seventies, the chairman of Glasgow City Council's Housing Committee, and was responsible for building the tower blocks which at the time were seen as the answer to the city's perennial housing problems. At the time when the book is set (the mid-nineties), however, Bawn is a sick and dying old man, living in a flat in one of his own blocks. He is visited by Jamie, his grandson whom he has not seen for many years. Ironically Jamie, who now lives in England, is a demolition contractor who makes his living by demolishing blocks of the type that his grandfather was instrumental in building. The story is mostly told from Jamie's viewpoint, although there are also passages of third-person narrative filling in the details of Hugh's past life. Besides narrating what occurs during the three months or so that he spends in Scotland with his grandparents, Jamie also tells of his own past, particularly his miserable childhood at the hands of his brutal, alcoholic father, Hugh's son Robert.
The book raises a number of interlinked questions concerning the conflict between idealism and pragmatism, the conflict between the desire for change and the desire to preserve the past and the conflict between the generations. Building, of course, is frequently used, especially by the political Left, as a metaphor for effecting social or political change, in phrases such as "building the future" or "building a new society". Hugh sees himself as a builder in both the literal and the metaphorical senses of the word. His quarrel with Jamie's generation is that they are, both literally and metaphorically, demolishing what his generation built.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie Cowell on July 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
The beauty of the language and the young man's feelings for his father and his grandfather, and the astonishing resolution tucked in a few lines like one beautiful pebble on a great shoreline. He writes of the heart. I could not put it down and missed it awfully when it was over.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Karbovsky on September 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Being not a Scot myself, I eschew to contradict the previous reviewer from Scotland in a question of author's seriousness and profundity in depiction of Scottish problems. I'll only try to evaluate the novel from impartial point of view of a man who was born in other country.
In his first novel Andrew O'Hagan raises a serious problem of conflict and misunderstanding of generations. Hugh Bawn, a grandfather of Jamie Bawn who is a protagonist of the novel, in postwar era made his best to eliminate Glaswegian terrible slums and give every citizen a clean and decent flat in tower blocks. He used cheap materials in construction in order to build more houses, not so comfortable but undoubtedly affordable. But the new times come, and today people, whose parents were glad to live in Hugh's houses, tear down the old structures to make way for the new and cast a slur upon Bawn. For those who live on the land of the former Soviet Union the depicted situation is a kind of allegory of our modern life, a portrait of "those fogetters of past necessities, those rectifiers of big mistakes" who discern in the history of our country in the 20th century only Stalin but never arduous labor of hundreds of our grandfathers, the Soviet Hughs, in their attempts to make life of millions better. The principle formulated by Jamie Bawn announces a motto of a conscious part of the new generation: "I wanted my own day, but not at the expense of every day that preceded".
The novel describes alienation between the members of three generations of the Bawn family. Hugh (first generation) is a passionate builder but he has no time for his son Robert (second generation), whom he despises for his inabilities.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. Rogers on July 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
With "Our Fathers," rookie novelist Andrew O'Hagan announces his entry into the foray of 21st-century writers with great promise. His first novel is as much a test as it is a book.
O'Hagan hasn't written the greatest first novel ever written, in "Our Fathers." He has, however, written a sublimely adequate novel that should leave readers wondering what the author has in store. For a first novel, "Our Fathers," is, perhaps, technically unsurpassed. It's structure, language, and plot are all expertly presented and well recieved. O'Hagan's fault is in his commitment to his characters, all of whom seem superficially created. His is a great story, well told, with characters in whom we never really trust or believe.
Interestingly, the same could be said of early James Joyce, or even Ernest Hemingway. I would place O'Hagan's potential somewhere between the two of those giants; not quite as intelectually distancing as Joyce, not quite as forceful as Hemingway.
O'Hagan is, no doubt, a gifted writer. This book is fun to read, if only to imagine what it might precede in this genuinely talented writer's career.
Here's hoping he continues...
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