The Only Problem

The Only Problem

3.51 (184 ratings by Goodreads)
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Harvey Gotham refuses to believe it when the French police tell him that his estranged wife is a dangerous terrorist. As far as the police are concerned, that only serves to throw suspicion on Gotham more

Product details

  • Paperback | 192 pages
  • 124 x 190 x 16mm | 140.61g
  • Penguin Books Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • 0140179615
  • 9780140179613

Review Text

At her best, and in such flawed yet bewitching recent novels as Territorial Rights and Loitering With Intent, Spark toys quite seriously with fundamental spiritual/philosophical issues - while creating irresistible surfaces of teasing plot and offbeat charm. Here, alas, the surface pleasures are minuscule; and the philosophy, though murky and unchallenging, is all too plainly out front. "The only problem" is the one posed in the Book of Job: that "a benevolent creator. . . could condone the unspeakable sufferings of the world." So wealthy Harvey Gotham, 35-ish, has spent most of his recent time holed up in a French cottage, writing a monograph on the Job problem. He has ignored divorce/alimony pleas from his estranged young wife Effie, whom he abruptly dumped when she justified her shoplifting with some fatuous radical rhetoric. (She was also unfaithful - and is now shacked up, newly pregnant.) Then, when Erie's illegitimate baby Clara is born, her less gorgeous, less crazy sister Ruth becomes the babe's virtual mother: she arrives at Harvey's door with Clara, soon installing herself as lady of the house (she's separated from actor-husband Edward, Harvey's old chum). And then comes the novel's major, virtually sole event: the French police announce that Effie is suspected of taking part in radical/terrorist violence up in Paris. Harvey, who hears the news while looking at a painting of Job's wife, refuses to believe in Effie's guilt. He is deserted by Ruth, who goes to London to shack up with Clara's father. He is badgered by the police and the press; he's semi-comforted by relatives and a comely policewoman. He is thus something of a Job himself: "Do I suffer on Erie's account? Yes, and perhaps I can live by that experience. We all need something to suffer about. But Job, my work on Job. . . that is experience too. . . To study, to think, is to live and suffer painfully." And finally, after Erie's guilt is grimly proved beyond doubt, Harvey finishes his mono-ograph and - like Job - settles clown (with the returned Ruth) to domestic contentment. With sketchy, inconsistent characters and oddly static treatment of the Job theme: a slight, opaque morality play, only very occasionally brightened by Sparkian wit or style. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

184 ratings
3.51 out of 5 stars
5 15% (27)
4 36% (67)
3 35% (65)
2 12% (23)
1 1% (2)
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