Review by Ben Macnair
Publisher: Liberties Press September 2021
ISBN: 978-1912589234 PB
Author Richard Todd wrote a successful novel in his youth, but is now struggling to come up with anything as good. His life with his wife Valerie and children is satisfying, but nothing remarkable, although Valerie is the glue that keeps the house and the family together, This enables Richard to work on his next magnum opus, in order to keep them in the manner to which they have been accustomed, and to rehabilitate his career as a writer and cultural figurehead.
Jenny is sent from his publisher to work on his new book, a fictional investigation into the assassination of President James Garfield. As he researches, he finds that the characters of Garfield, his assassin Charles J Guiteau and many others from the time are intruding into his everyday waking hours.
As he starts an affair with Jenny and leaves the family home, things become even more complicated. An advance from his publishers doesn’t go anywhere near supporting two houses, and his writer’s block shows little sign of disappearing as the voices appear at the most inopportune of times.
The Garfield Conspiracy is many things. It is about self-doubt, and the pressure that early success can have on a career. It is about family life and an affair that is both well-drawn and believable – the age gap, and the differences in Jenny and Richard’s attitudes to life, literature and the situation that they find themselves in is also explored very well.
Richard is shown to be a deeply flawed character. Is his behaviour; the selfish act of a man going through a mid-life crisis, or is it something more than that? We learn of his publishers, and their impatience with his writing, knowing that both their success and reputation rely on him producing something better than he has written before.
The denouement of the book, which shows some form of redemption and forgiveness between Valerie and Jenny as they bring up Richard’s children in a family that is not always well blended is also well-drawn.
The Garfield Conspiracy is an interesting blend of many disparate genres. It is a family drama, a historical drama, a psychological study into character and motivation. This is Owen Dwyer’s third published novel and is known for his short stories. If the writing in The Garfield Conspiracy is anything to go by, he is a writer of depth, with an interesting and unusual way of looking at the world, and perhaps The Garfield Conspiracy will be the novel that attracts more readers his way.