Thursday, 17 August 2017
A New Map of Love by Abi Oliver
Book review by Greenacre Writer Mumpuni Murniati
How would middle-aged men respond in the event of their partners’ passing? For women, the answer may be clearer: they carry on. Because the statistics say that women live longer. But if not?
George Baxter is adjusting to life without his wife of twenty-six years, Winifred. His antiques business keeps him occupied and Monty, his beloved Basset Hound, keeps him company. Moments of loneliness hit him hard until Slyvia Newsome sweeps him off his feet. Is she his golden ticket to the second chance of love?
Set in a village in 1960s England, A New Map of Love portrays a ‘just widowed’ man learning the ropes of his new status. In a light-hearted tone, Abi Oliver is bringing forward a series of niggling issues men and women would quietly ask to themselves: how much does life change after twenty-six years of marriage and the death of a spouse? How many memories are retained? In a life without a long-term partner, how easy is it to adjust and move on?
Oliver is at her best describing people’s idiosyncrasies through their comedy of errors. Done in warm but hilarious depictions which often finds her protagonist being trapped in a number of ‘women situations’. Not only is the plot brimming with scenes of George’s mishaps with the opposite sex, but also his ‘exploration’ of women; the latter being a tick for Apple Tree Yard (2014) without its messy aftermath.
Oliver's crafting of a scene can make a seemingly ordinary domestic scenario become imbued with an unusual seriousness. An undercurrent of disagreements needs not turn into a battle of viewpoints, whilst her depictions of George’s encounters with some of his quirky clients are seriously hilarious set in an already hilariously serious situation.
Lady Byngh’s pugnacious face presented itself at the open window from under a crushed-looking hat of a black straw. At the sight of George’s face, the two bloated Cairn terriers hurled themselves like cannonballs with teeth and moustaches against the black widow. An equally paunchy golden Labrador gazed desperately at him from the passenger seat through a haze of smoke. Clearly Lady Byngh was not intending to get out of the car today so he was not to be treated to the sight of her cigarette-scorched tweeds or oddly matched stockings.
Oliver’s choice of the setting may be personal but nonetheless it's an audacious one. The old-world feeling might recall to readers’ mind the Miss Marple’s novels set in the same sorts of villages, George visits. Or perhaps to Marguerite Steen's last years in Blewbury. Yet it is the enthralling details of the seasonal features in the book, the feisty women round George and their occasional frivolities that are a pleasure in the reading.
Any impression construed that Oliver’s debut is another novel about grief is unfounded and moreover misunderstands the complexity of moving on. More importantly, she puts forward the quest about rules of mourning for men: how long is long for them? How short is short? Above all, are there any rules at all?
Maybe, he calculated, once we have finished our coffee, I should just ask her, outright. No messing about. They were both mature, experienced people. She might like the masterful approach. The only thing was, he just wasn’t very masterful. As she chattered on to him he rehearsed the words in his head… Now then- how about we…? No – how about, Isn’t it time we went upstairs? Or perhaps the martinet approach – come along now! Or perhaps, Oh, darling, come with me, I must have you, now!
Does being a man make grieving easier? Before passing a verdict, read the book, there’s more to just being a widower in George Baxter.
Thank you to Macmillan for the review copy.
You can follow Abi on Twitter: @AbiWriterOliver
Posted by Greenacre Writers at 09:20