In William Peace’s thought-provoking novel, Granduncle Bertie, family-driven drama is recounted in the conversations and memories of a struggling agnostic searching for spiritual connection.
For several years, Londoner Bertie Smithson has partnered with his artistically talented niece, Sarah, to create a popular series of children’s books. Suffering from thanatophobia (fear of death), “a bit of hypochondria,” and recent nightmares, the senior Bertie asks Sarah to help him write his life story.
As the novel creatively unfolds, weaving past and present to reveal memorable events from Bertie’s life, readers learn of Bertie’s attempt to understand his role as family patriarch, his search for career fulfillment, struggles with the loss of loved ones and extended-family issues ranging from sexual orientation and mental health problems to infidelity and unlawful activities.
Bertie’s doubts about religion and God’s existence often come to the forefront. His personal spiritual journey includes provocative conversations with his devoutly religious wife, an affable priest, a mysterious ex-bus driver known as “the Professor,” and an expressive Hindu shopkeeper. Their discussions tap into the validity of prayer, God’s position on abortion, Satan’s ability to fuel destructive thought and more. All of his encounters help gain a more personal perspective on faith.
While intriguing, the novel suffers from a few flaws. During Bertie and Sarah’s conversations, the point-of-view transitions between the two sometimes becomes blurred and confusing. And although light-hearted humor is woven amidst the pathos, the losses Bertie suffers—including the deaths of his father, a nephew, a grandchild, a brother, and his close golden retriever companion—seem excessive, and it feels odd that this doesn’t appear to negatively impact Bertie’s search for connection to a higher power. The book also contains typos and missing words scattered throughout.
Granduncle Bertie draws readers into vignettes of family drama, meaningful conversations, and ultimately, a spiritual awakening that leads the elder gent to peace. Although it has some distracting issues, readers seeking similar solace may find Bertie’s journey edifying.