Published by Tinder Press
Available in Ebook and Hardback (9 July 2019) | Paperback 2 April 2020
Source: Copy provided by publisher for review
ABOUT THE BOOK
James, once an erudite and eminent professor, is getting on a bit and needs full-time help. So Phoebe and Robert, his middle-aged offspring, employ Mandy, who seems willing to take him off their hands. But as time goes on, and James regales his family with tales of Mandy’s skills, her shopping trips, and the shared pleasure of their journeys to garden centres and watching birds, Phoebe and Robert sense something is amiss. Is this really their father, the distant figure who never once turned up for a sports day, now happily chortling over cuckoo clocks and television soaps?
Then something happens that throws everything into new relief, and Phoebe and Robert discover that life most definitely does not stop for the elderly. It just moves onto a very different plane – changing all the stories they thought they knew so well.
A deliciously funny, poignant and wry novel, full of surprising twists and turns from a writer whose clear-sighted observations of how people work – for readers of Anne Tyler, Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Strout
85 year old widower James needs help and not wishing to put him into a home, nor wishing to disrupt their own lives, his children Phoebe and Robert engage a full time carer. So Mandy from Solihull arrives in her Fiat Panda. 50 years old, wearing stripey tights and a bobble hat and rather to their surprise and if they are honest, disappointment, James seems to thrive under her care. Before retirement he was a distinguished professor of particle physics and desperately missed his intellectual conversations with his late wife Anna. However with Mandy around, he has surprisingly become interested in neighbourhood gossip, daytime TV and visits to shopping malls and Lidl. Mandy calls their father ‘Jimmy’ and ‘love’ and has arranged antimacassars on the furniture. Their father was becoming a completely different person.
This is very much a story of the complexity of family relationships. Robert and Phoebe are both in their sixties but still harbour some resentment towards their father for not being around much when they were children and for the broken promises made during their childhood and for just being absent and distant both emotionally and physically. Although they have comfortable lifestyles, neither of their lives has turned out to be quite the success they had hoped for and contrasted with Mandy, who despite her forthright manner is a much jollier person altogether and less encumbered by such niggles, they come across as rather spoilt and entitled, when really they should be old enough to put such petty disappointments behind them.
At first they are pleased that Mandy has relieved them of the day to day care of James so that they can continue with their own lives feeling a little less guilty about the lack of visits. They might be a little jealous that he seems to prefer her company to theirs but when they live so far away, that’s a small price to pay. However little things about Mandy start to worry and then they suspect her of snooping through James’ personal effects. Is Mandy the treasure that she appears to be or does she have her own agenda.
There was much about this story that resonated with me on a personal level and I think that many people with ageing parents may find some familiar ground here. My own circumstances meant that I had no option but to find a care home for my mother following the death of my father. She needed 24/7 care which I was unable to provide and although I did my best to find her the best home I could and visited several times a week, there was still that guilt – that I should be doing more. Robert and Phoebe’s dilemma concerning James’ care was certainly one that I could identify with and whilst they weren’t always the most likeable of people, there were times when I felt some sympathy for them.
It has been a long while since I last read a Deborah Moggach book and I had forgotten how expertly she describes family dynamics with wry observations that had me nodding my head in agreement. The story completely took me by surprise because it didn’t follow the path I had predicted but suddenly veered off into a direction that I wasn’t expecting – one which actually showed just how complicated this family was.
I really enjoyed this, it’s not a fast paced read but the alternating perspectives move the story along very nicely and I was glued to it from page 1. Moggach has a way with her writing and character observations that just draws you in – it’s simplistic and to the point but written with warmth and wit and I now remember why I enjoyed her books so much in the past.
My thanks to Georgina Moore and the publisher for the copy to review.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Moggach is the author of nineteen successful novels including the bestselling Tulip Fever. In 2012, her novel These Foolish Things was adapted for the screen under the title The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and starred Judi Dench, Dev Patel, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith. An award-winning screenwriter, she won a Writers’ Guild Award for her adaptation of Anne Fine’s Goggle-Eyes and her screenplay for the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was nominated for a BAFTA. Her television screenwriting credits include the acclaimed adaptations of her own novels Close Relations and Final Demand, as well as Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate and The Diary of Anne Frank. Deborah has been Chairman of the Society of Authors and worked for PEN’s Executive Committee. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, she was appointed an OBE in the 2018 New Year’s Honours List for services to literature and drama.