The Draftsman – Synopsis
Martin Cox left school at 16 with stellar grades. But too traumatised to progress any further academically, he instead took a low-paid, low-skilled job in a local drafting office.
Over the course of a couple of years Martin progresses in skill and appreciation of design and structure. He is an engineering genius and when he makes recommendations to change a patent application his life is turned around. He becomes very rich, but Martin Cox is a damaged man, a man whose past has left deep and abiding scars. He’s high-achieving, autistic, and craves routine and consistency in his life, yet he lives in chaos. He cannot relate to other people and is barely even aware of his own identity or his considerable limitations. Child abuse is not unusual in modern fiction, but a mother’s abuse of her son in the name of love is less common. Its legacy is rarely addressed.
When Martin Cox buys a house in the countryside, it is the first time ever he has spent any time out of London. He is slowly intrigued by the landscape and the history of the property. He starts to learn more about the original house, about the wartime hospital, about the school and about a young woman and her Canadian airman. As he becomes more fascinated, Martin starts to grow away from himself and towards others. He gradually comes to recognise the damage he has suffered at his mother’s hand, and even to care. His relationships become a source of healing, first the connection with his boss and later with his business minder. But these relationships are unclearly defined. The ambivalence with which the writer addresses Martin Cox’s sexuality is deliberate, a device to keep the reader guessing and a reflection of Martin’s own uncertainty and confusion.
Martin’s fascination with his house and its landscape, the local history, the wartime realities he learns more about as the book progresses, lead him to a mystery. As Martin’s sense of identity develops the reader sees his unacknowledged and unrecognised victimhood, mirror the solution of a mystery that only becomes apparent in the book’s climax.
The Draftsman is a compelling and highly original work of fiction. We come to understand Martin’s curious obsessions, contradictions and motivations through the course of the book. Martin’s logic, extreme orderliness and control are his default but they mask his capacity to care or love. These limitations are a function of his mother’s unwelcome attentions.