Granduncle Bertie

‘Sarah, a free-spirited artist in her late twenties, accepts an assignment from her granduncle, Albert Smithson, to write his memoir. ‘Bertie’ has a crippling terror of death brought about by the agonising death of his father, who was an atheist. He learns that there are three conditions one must attain to die in a peaceful state. At age fifty-four, he has none of them and is determined to achieve them all.’

“A heart-warming novel”, – Foreword Reviews

“A very human tale, told by an engaging character with questions to consider well after reading”, – Blue Ink Reviews


Sarah, a free-spirited artist in her late twenties, accepts the assignment from her granduncle,
Bertie Smithson, to write his memoir.

In her first interview, Sarah discovers that Bertie has a morbid premonition of his own death
brought about by his father’s remonstrations against God during his fatal illness, and by a
recurrent nightmare of a terminal diagnosis. During his mother’s funeral, Bertie reveals his
own agnosticism, and his brother’s partner tells him that the fear of death can be overcome by
a combination of faith, a deeply satisfying vocation, and meaningful family relationships.
Bertie has none of these. With the death of his mother, Bertie must become the patriarch of
the family.

Bertie and his wife, Jo, move into his parents larger, memory-filled home. During a holiday
in Seaford, Bertie is shocked by the sudden death of Brucie. This reinforces his own fears
that his life may be cut short. Bertie turns to his Catholic wife, Jo, for solace but Jo tells him
that for his faith to be real, he must develop it himself.

Later, Bertie is shocked to discover that Jo had an affair with another man. He confronts Jo
who confesses her ‘dreadful sin’ in agony. Bertie weighs the alternatives and forgives her.
Bertie and Jo endure a scare over her breast cancer.

Confronted with a series of family misadventures, including an incipient affair, theft, and
selfishness, Bertie learns that a patriarch must be a disciplinarian as well as a wise leader.

His son Jeffrey becomes an MP, and Bertie is envious of Jeffrey’s fulfilment. Meanwhile
Bertie is unable to relieve his younger brother Jason’s depression. When Jason commits
suicide, Bertie fails to find meaning in Jason’s death.

Sarah recalls Heather, Bertie’s granddaughter, who dies of leukaemia in spite of a stem cell
transplant. Bertie wishes he could have given up his life to save her.

There is an argument between Bertie and Jo about whether their youngest, Elizabeth, should
have an abortion as a result of a failed liaison, Bertie accompanies his daughter to the clinic,
and debates the issue with Sarah.

In chance meetings with the Professor, a black mystic-philosopher, Bertie is introduced to the
idea of a ‘fourth dimension’, a spiritual universe which parallels the matter-space universe.

Later, Bertie, in his struggle to find faith, discovers the Jewish concept of Emunah, a
commitment to God. In debates with a Catholic priest, he acknowledges the role of the devil
in human tragedies.

Determined to start a meaningful second career as a writer of children’s books, Bertie
overcomes obstacles and enjoys success with Sarah as a writer-artist team. He learns that
Sarah is gay. Despite her fears, Bertie accepts her with open arms.

Bertie also discovers Hindu concepts of an infinite universe. He tries to reconcile the events
of his life, concluding that life comes from God in the form of the spirit.

Enrolling on the Alpha Course, Bertie experiences awareness, completeness and asylum that
never leaves him. With Jo, he discovers the delight of teaching year four Sunday school. He
learns that he has an incurable brain cancer and dies in his sleep, surrounded by family and

Granduncle Bertie is the story of a frightened but determined man’s struggles to live a life
that has value for him and others in the face of death. It is set in contemporary Wandsworth,

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