Hugh Argylle, title character in Marina Endicott’s latest novel, owns a struggling art gallery in Peterborough, Ontario, and has a lot of people to look after. Over the course of the week in late October during which the novel unfolds, it becomes clear that Hugh’s loving and “never-ending vigilance” over the lives of his friends – an eccentric group of artists and actors – is what holds their small community together in the face of relationship crises, financial woes, and even death.
While Hugh is the hub of the wheel from which the novel’s other characters radiate, Endicott masterfully develops a sizable cast of discrete secondary personalities, carefully elucidating their idiosyncrasies and connections to one another. Notable among the troupe is young Orion, a gay high school student in love with the considerably older Newell, who is himself messily entangled in a difficult relationship with pompous blowhard Burton.
Then there is Della, a painter and Hugh’s lifelong friend, who is dealing with the potential disintegration of her 30-year marriage and the imminent departure of her soon-to-be-18-year-old daughter, L., a budding artist questioning her sexuality and her future in the art world. Interestingly, Endicott reveals Della’s story via first person narration – the only narration of its kind in the novel. Della’s sections comprise brief, fragmented, stream-of-consciousness accounts of the woman’s fears and impressions.
The most endearing character in the novel is Ivy Sage. A self-conscious, aging theatre actor with a memory problem, Ivy comes to Peterborough for money, but stays for the love she finds with Hugh. Surprised by the unexpected and swift arrival of such emotion late in life, the two form a genuine bond that will be what saves Hugh, especially in the wake of one of the biggest losses of his life.
Aside from unnecessary and too-frequent play on the words “Hugh” and “you” – particularly in chapter titles such as “Hugh Can’t Go Home Again” and “If It Makes Hugh Happy” – this novel beautifully, sadly, and at times even comically illustrates our deep need for community, reminding us that we “are tiny, unknowable, unimaginably unimportant, far from everything,” and, ultimately, “only close to each other.”