by : Ann Widdecombe
When Ann Widdecombe made her fiction debut with The Clematis Tree her insights into what happens when a marriage is under stress were widely remarked upon. In her new novel she returns to this contemporary theme with a situation that has become frighteningly familiar to all too many couples. Jason Kirk is a thirty-two year old teacher who believes he is happily married until he returns home one day to find that his wife has left him, taking their two young children with her. Suddenly Jason finds the role of father denied to him as he is separated from his children and reduced to the role of visitor. The law is weighted against him and his wife produces a series of excuses to withhold contact with Jake, eight and Leah, three. Jason, who had wanted to bring his children up to maturity on a daily basis, not only has to face the pain of this loss but endures the misery of persecution by the Child Support Agency. He discovers he is not alone, that among friends and colleagues are others enduring the same situation. Jason's fate is a fact of twenty-first century living, where, so surveys show, fifty per cent of all men now beginning families will not be living with their children by the time they reach the age of eighteen. Just as in The Clematis Tree when Ann Widdecombe was commended in particular for her portrayal of parents with a profoundly handicapped child so in Father Figure - an enthralling, thought-provoking novel of modern fatherhood - her message is simple: men are human beings too.