Whitaker, Phil 1966-
WHITAKER, Phil 1966-
PERSONAL: Born 1966, in Kent, England; married; wife's name, Lynn; children: two daughters. Education: Studied at Nottingham University Medical School; University of East Anglia, M.A.
ADDRESSES: Home—Somerset, England. Office—Literary Intelligence, 3 Park Road, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 5BP, England. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer and physician. General practitioner and director of alternative medical center in England. Book reviewer for Guardian, London, England; cofounder of Literary Intelligence (manuscript critiquing service). Arvon Foundation, tutor in novel writing.
AWARDS, HONORS: Whitbread First Novel Award nomination, Betty Trask Award, and Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, all for Eclipse of the Sun; Encore Award for Best Second Novel, for Triangulation.
Eclipse of the Sun, Phoenix House (London, England), 1997.
Triangulation, Picador (New York, NY), 1999.
The Face, Atlantic Books (London, England), 2002.
Contributor to BBC World Service series "The Art of Writing."
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel titled Freak of Nature.
SIDELIGHTS: A physician by training, British author Phil Whitaker pens book reviews and novels, and he is cofounder of a manuscript critiquing service. A graduate of the creative writing program at the University of East Anglia, Whitaker has published three critically acclaimed novels, Eclipse of the Sun, Triangulation, and The Face.
Eclipse of the Sun, which garnered numerous honors, is set in the small town of Nandrapur, India, the work follows the efforts of Rajesh Despande, a science teacher, to educate the townspeople about a coming solar eclipse which many misinterpret as a sign of disaster. Despande is motivated not only by his devotion to scientific truth, but also by his interest in a beautiful coworker who stands in contrast to his dull, superstitious wife. "None of the characters is heroic, but each has a good deal of human interest, and they interact in an intricate and vivid way," wrote Spectator critic James Simmons, who also praised the author's style: "Perhaps economy is the key to Whitaker's brilliance. Nothing is overdone. He can write big scenes and does, but mostly things are done briefly and by suggestion, with taste and flair."
A decades-old love triangle is the focus of Whitaker's second novel, Triangulation. The tale's narrator, retired map surveyor John Hopkins, embarks on a journey to visit Helen Gardner, a former love interest. During his travels, Hopkins recalls his rivalry for Helen's affections with the dashing Laurence Wallace, a surveyor on special assignment in Africa during the twilight of the British colonial era. According to New Statesman reviewer Candida Clark, the circumstances that drew the characters together are "shown to be as shadowy and deceptive as their relationships once were to one another: all three worked for the directorate of overseas surveys, an obsolete organisation that sometimes produced false maps in an attempt to benefit from forgotten skirmishes in dark corners of the empire. And as John travels closer to the geographical heart of England in search of lost time, there is the sense of his past—and all notions of empire—dissolving." As Guardian critic Alex Clark observed, "these are characters unaware of the larger political context in which they are operating. Whitaker weaves a complex tale of personal and professional treachery, in which the fallible narrator's culpability for the disastrous events that befall Helen and Laurance slowly unfolds."
Whitaker employs a three-strand narrative in his literary thriller The Face. When retired detective Ray Arthur dies in a car accident that appears to be a suicide, his daughter Zoe travels to her father's home in Nottingham to look for answers. There she discovers a cryptic phone message from Declan Barr, a police sketch artist who had worked with Ray on a disturbing child-abuse case some thirty years earlier. As Zoe investigates further, an inquest is begun by Ray's insurance company to determine the true cause of his death. "The three streams of narrative—Zoe's quest, Declan Barr's testimony, and the proceedings of a coroner's court—converge nicely, making the book a very compelling read," noted Spectator critic Henry Porter. Porter also remarked that what separates The Face from more conventional thrillers is "the way that Whitaker keeps the truth of what happened from his main protagonist. In his world the just are neither enlightened nor rewarded." According to New Statesman contributor Maureen Feely, "The Face avoids easy outs and convenient scapegoats. Instead, it forces us to stand in front of our collective blind spot. And there it leaves us, cruelly refusing to restore order or even to reestablish the primacy of reason."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Entertainment Weekly, January 7, 2000, review of Triangulation, p. 62.
Guardian, May 29, 1999, Alex Clark, review of Triangulation, p. 10; December 4, 1999, Carrie O'Grady, review of Triangulation, p. 11.
New Statesman, May 31, 1999, Candida Clark, review of Triangulation, p. 50; June 24, 2002, Maureen Freely, review of The Face, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1999, review of Triangulation, p. 45.
Spectator, October 4, 1997, James Simmons, review of Eclipse of the Sun, pp. 42-43; July 13, 2002, Henry Porter, review of The Face, p. 36.
Literary Intelligence Web site, http://www.literaryintelligence.co.uk/ (November 17, 2004), "Phil Whitaker."