Mooncranker's Gift by Barry Unsworth
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
For some reason this book reminded me of Durrell's Alexandria Quartet - it's nothing overtly like it, but there was something there that tugged at my memory of those four books and said this was like them.
The main character is Farnaby, who met the titular character as a teen. At that point in Farnaby's life he was religious, reading the Bible and praying daily, but it was one of those turning-point summers: his parents are getting divorced, he discovers the mixed pleasures of "pleasure" and Mooncranker gives him a gift that so horrifies him that he turns from prayer. What's the gift? A figure of Jesus, on the cross, made of sausage and wrapped in cloth; it eventually rots and Farnaby discovers maggots and flies crawling over the dead meat.
For years this has haunted him, both the image and the question of why someone would give him such a "gift." While studying in Istanbul, his Uncle George reintroduces him to Mooncranker, by this time a pathetic drunk mourning the loss of Miranda (another remnant of that long ago summer). After hospitalizing Mooncranker, Farnaby agrees to go look for Miranda at a Turkish spa, a place that seems to be more about illicit sex than healing.
The characters at the spa are vaguely stereotypical, but we don't meet them clearly enough during the two days that Farnaby is there. He does meet up with Miranda and ultimately asks her about this "gift" - whether or not he's happy with the response, or her reasons for why it may have been given, are left open to our interpretation. I didn't get he sense that he'd come to peace with what happened either that summer or with Mooncranker in Istanbul.
Having said all that, I'd be interested in reading more from this author. Why? The style is a little old-fashioned, less plot than character driven and that makes a nice change of pace.