In Relatively Famous, Roger Averill combines a fictional memoir with extracts from a faux-biography of the memoirist’s Booker Prize-winning father, Gilbert Madigan. The biography amounts to a fairly bloodless summary of the events of Madigan’s life, and his son’s memoir is similarly sedate. This makes for a limp but sensitively conceived novel about paternal failure and the extent to which parents remain the authors of their children’s lives.
Michael is Gilbert’s eldest son. His father rose to prominence with a début novel that was widely admired for its stylish, modernist framing of working-class concerns. While writing the novel, Madigan Sr relied on the financial and domestic support of his wife (who gave up a teaching degree to support him). He also borrowed his protagonist’s working-class expressions and sensibilities from his father-in-law. Despite these personal and aesthetic debts, Gilbert left his first wife and son soon after achieving celebrity status and went on to live a life unburdened by conventional adult responsibilities.