Tom Stacey is being driven to distraction by a strange buzzing sound that seems to be following him around. Bees, he thinks. Bees in the fridge when he’s preparing for a blind date. Bees in the computer at work when a colleague is teasing him. Bees in his phone when he’s waiting for a call.
He has recently joined a dating agency, and his encounters haven’t been going well. None of the women he has been set up with quite fits the bill, and he’s been informed by the agency owners that the feeling has been exclusively likewise. He decides that it’s high time to approach the dating business with a more scientific reasoning, and sets his mind to deciding what makes his ideal woman. It’s then that he remembers a face from his past – Sarah McCarthy.
It becomes apparent quite early on that Tom isn’t the easiest of people to get to know. Never nasty, never knowingly cruel he nonetheless has few social graces and believes his arsenal of facts is sufficient for conversation. Living in a bed-sit, working a dead-end job alongside childhood acquaintances in a factory, isolated and lonely, Tom is a strangely likable character. Because everything is seen from his point of view, from his periodical memories of the summer he spent travelling around Dublin with his grandfather to the acute emotions he feels but is quite unable to profess, it’s like an insight into the mind of an awkward, damaged individual who is a whole lot more than the irritating oddball on the surface.
Don’t be put off by A Model Partner’s title. Like judging a book by its cover I did, and before settling into a modified mind-frame was confused and a bit baffled by the direction it was taking. Beginning with a date and a meeting with the directors of the agency it seems like the story will be all about Tom’s quest for love, but an encounter at work and the emergence of some surreal delusions puts paid to that. The title has some relevance – to facilitate Tom’s research into deciding what might constitute his ideal woman he manages to get his hands on a waxwork model – but because of the much wider and more interesting facets to the story it feels like the title was tacked on to appeal to a certain demographic, who probably wouldn’t choose to read past the first few pages.
Seery has deftly created a unique character in Tom, and really skillfully portrays his inner demons and outer quirks in a remarkable way. Tom’s interactions with other people are wholly believable too, and the supporting characters are never one-dimensional. Tom’s sometimes weird behavior seems almost reasonable through his eyes, from ‘house-sitting’ his neighbours’ flat while they’re away, unbeknownst to them, to trying desperately to get a photograph of a woman’s striking grey eyes. Seery is a gifted storyteller, his descriptions of everyday environments are captivating and the dialogue convincing.
I can’t exactly say I liked the book, however. In some ways it made me uneasy, so agonizing the simple misunderstandings, invoking an unbearable empathy for Tom. It is though funny and warm, and intriguing. The mystery of the buzzing is eventually unraveled, revealing an even more poignant layer to the protagonist. Upon judging it by its title I did it a disservice; not unlike writing someone like Tom off before delving deeper into what makes him tick. Or rather, buzz.
– Aoife B. Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald on 26th June 2014