When Finch gets sacked from his job promoting artificial plants he winds up becoming a professional hermit in the employ of Mr Crane, an eccentric billionaire. His story is told in chapters that alternate between Finch as an old man, weak and almost blind, alone in his garden, and a series of flashbacks that take us from his office job to the present.
The novel is allegorical and structured in a way that allows the reader to make a multitude of interpretations. Is it about capitalism? About technology versus the wild? About man versus nature? About man versus God? The garden has more than a passing resemblance to that of Eden. It is full of new plants that, as Finch notes, seem always to be simultaneously producing flowers and fruit.
As Finch starts to settle into the garden he is set a series of tasks at the whim of Mr Crane. He is asked to meditate, he is given a pipe and told to play it, given paints and told to create art. Crane even builds a river in the garden and tells Finch to go swimming and then later, fishing. For a while Finch, internally, wonders about these orders but in time he follows them without question. Eventually he is hearing commands that are not even there, seeing all occurrences as the will of the “Old Man”. At first this seems like quite a simple allegory, in which Finch is Man and Mr Crane, God. Finch follows the orders until he follows them blindly, he sees God in everything.
But the novel is more complicated than this, because if Finch is Man he is also the God figure. An alternative reading would put Mr Crane as man, who feels compelled to invent a God figure (Finch) who resembles all that is best in man, but then abandons him when he out-grows him. In fact both readings work, separately and simultaneously.
Which all makes the book sound sort of po-faced. It isn’t. It is (whisper it) entertaining. It is funny. Finch is a brilliant creation. A product of capitalism who even as a hermit is just following orders. A faker and a fabulist who finds escape in a, beautifully described, natural world that in turn is largely fake.
Any Cop?: Serious in intent, immensely readable and entertaining in its execution: that, surely, is the mark of good writing.