As part of acclaimed Irish Author Owen Dwyer’s blog tour, I’m proud to share my thoughts on his latest novel, The Garfield Conspiracy.
At first, I genuinely thought the ‘Garfield’ mentioned in the title was the lasagne loving cat! After all, the advanced copies are bright yellow and feature a surrealist-inspired image of a man with his face inside an old-fashioned TV. I’d also read the synopsis and knew that the book was about a man going making a series of unfortunate choices and reassessing his life.
What I didn’t realise was that this man, the protagonist Richard Todd, is an academic turned celebrity author who’s popularity is dwindling. His publisher, as a last resort, sends in an ambitious young research assistant, Jenny, to help him polish his latest book and conduct research into his next project. Richard’s next book will be an exploration of the assassination of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the USA, who was the second, after Lincoln, to die by assassination, and the man who was killed after being found guilty of the murder.
It has to be said, from the first chapter, I was expecting something a bit different from The Garfield Conspiracy. I thought that the historical conspiracy theory would take precedence over the modern tale of a man in the throes of a mid-life crisis. I also thought that the past and present would stay separate.
Instead, the novel focuses on the protagonist and his young research assistant, as the pair battle with their feelings. At the same time, Richard is dealing with voices in his head and the frightening implications that comes with. He has a family to protect and care for, including three kids, ranging from teenagers to a younger kid. So, he’s facing a crisis that threatens to upend not only the stability of his own life, but also that of his family.
So, as you can see, I was wrong, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an engaging and enjoyable read. On the contrary, despite being completely different to its initial promise, the novel quickly transforms into something even more relevant and relatable. With varying perspectives, the book is able to give the reader an insight into how we all see the world differently.
What I especially like about The Garfield Conspiracy is that Dwyer doesn’t sugar coat the predatory nature of his protagonist. The guy is, essentially, a sex pest. But Dwyer doesn’t try to portray him as anything else. He doesn’t do that cobblers where he tries to put a higher purpose to his character’s creepiness. Richard is still a well-read, educated man, but he’s also shown to be a cretin.
He’s going through a lot, and Dwyer gives us a unique insight into his character’s mind. I love the author’s portrayal Richard: he’s conceited, self-obsessed and dealing with a lot of catastrophes, only some of which are self-inflicted. As the novel goes on, we see him battle with strange dreams in which the man who allegedly killed president Garfield comes to him and says that he was framed for the crime, all while dealing with the impact of the fallout as he leaves his family behind and starts a new life with a girl young enough to be his daughter.
The ‘action’ as it were, takes place in the Richard’s palatial home in a posh neighbourhood in Dublin, where Richard and Jenny, his new young assistant, work on his upcoming work together while family life goes on around them. Dwyer sets the scene amazingly and creates a unique juxtaposition between the stuffy setting and the snappy dialogue that takes place in it.
All in all, I thought that The Garfield Conspiracy was an insightful book that acts as a unique combination of critique of modern life and historical fiction. I learned a lot about the past and enjoyed meeting Dwyer’s host of characters. If you’re looking for an intriguing read that keeps you on your toes, then I’d recommend checking out this latest example of amazing Irish fiction.