It was inevitable that Mark would find himself one day writing the biography of his late father, the acclaimed author Charles Packard. After all, given his unique familial attachment to Charles, and his profession as a Historian, such an undertaking was probably unavoidable. And in the circumstances, Mark as biographer is blessed with a wealth of material: his own first-hand experience, his father’s own work, via his Aunt (his father’s sister), the testimonies of Charles’ colleagues, friends – and enemies.
Yet what he uncovers is unexpected. It reveals elements of his father’s life that are not only new to him, but which begin to resonate upon his own. There are parallels, reflections; Charles’ past provides a lens through which Mark sees his own life afresh – and which begins to change the way he lives it. In writing about his father, Mark finds their philosophies somehow coming closer.
But if this were hoped for by Mark – and if it was, in consequence, anticipated to be a positive influence on him – then he might find himself wishing for something else. Not only are some of the discoveries he makes alarming, they begin to intrude in a very tangible way on Mark’s interpretation of his own life, his own history.
If the biography were intended to be, in any way, a closing of a chapter, a sealing up of the past, then it proves to be something far darker, unleashing personal daemons that Mark could never have anticipated.
They still called it his room, even though part of him felt that he should have grown out of such a possession years previously. There was a time in his life – as perhaps there is a time in every child’s life – where he came upon the notion of privacy, of space; where he felt the need to have somewhere to retreat to (or emerge from) which belonged to him. He had his own room at his Father’s house of course; indeed, it felt at times as if the whole house belonged to him, and that it was his Father who was the minor partner in the building. Yet Simon and Beatrice, as they saw him so frequently – and as they had plenty of rooms to spare – had decided at an early stage that Mark should have “a room” there too. They did not go quite as far as his Father had in terms of indulging his spasmodic peccadilloes for posters and other decorative styles (he had painted a five foot face on his bedroom wall one year) but they were happy to accommodate him as best they could without compromising their own sense of delicacy and the general tenor of the house.
Despite his maturity, his “growing up”, somehow it seemed natural to him that they should still regard it as “his room”, even now. Those four walls had developed with him, survived impassively the various fads he had gone through – even out-lasting the rather bleak period when, as a teenager, rebellion was the thing, and he hardly saw his Aunt and Uncle at all – and had now become his study; the place where he worked when he was researching the biography of his Father.
Simon had been insistent, once he had been approached by his partners (he had a small but influential stake in a publishing company) for a definitive biography of his brother-in-law, that Mark – who had shown a degree of talent in the things he had written thus far: articles for the magazine he worked for part-time; freelance pieces in the National press; even short stories – should be given first refusal to author it. For his part, Mark had been immediately reluctant. He used his lack of experience and his closeness to the subject (this, as if his Father were some abstract third party) as sound reasons for not being involved at all. The general forces were ranged against him however, and when Beatrice (whether or not spurred on by Simon, he was unable to say) joined the fray, laden with arguments which supported Simon’s instinct that Mark was indeed the man for the job, he knew the die was cast. Knowing Beatrice was not to be engaged in combat lightly – and, if he was honest, he was warming to the idea in any event – Mark gradually relented, allowing his own arguments to be weakened until they simply evaporated. Thus his room became his study, and, when he was working on the book, by and large he worked from there.