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Deboragh Moggach is probably best known as the author of These Foolish Things which was filmed as The Best Marigold Hotel, a jolly romp about retirees finding purpose, happiness and sometimes love in India. Heartbreak Hotel is a jolly romp about aging actor Buffy who unexpectedly inherits a delapidated B & B in Wales and begins running Course for Divorces as a means of filling his rooms. His clients, not necessarily retirees, mostly find purpose, happiness and sometimes love... This is actually a sequal to the Ex Wives, starring Buffy again, and a lot of the characters from that turn up in this one, but you don't need to have read it first. I only read The Ex Wives three years about and can remember mildly enjoying it but nothing else, and it didn't hamper my reading this book one bit. Deboragh Moggach has a breezy, light style, she's occasionally very funny and though the first half of this book is better than the second half, which tends to be a bit farcical in places, it's a fun read, the sort of thing to pick up if you're depressed or just not feeling up to tackling a "hard" book. It's not one of those books that makes an impact though, I have a feeling that in six months time I might have forgotten the plot entirely.
Originally published as These Foolish Things. Dr Ravi Kapoor is an overworked A&E consultant who has recently hit the headlines because he is held responsible when an elderly patient spent two days unattended on a trolley following a fall. With remarkable restraint he has not mentioned the real reason - "she wouldn't let any darkies touch her" To add to his woes, his father-in-law has been evicted from his most recent care home placement. Yet again for his unsavoury personal habits, and his "inappropriate sexual behaviour". He has moved in with Ravi and his wife Pauline. Unable to apply his professional detachment to his home situation Ravi pours his woes into the ear of his businessman cousin, Sonny, who quickly sees a business opportunity and persuades Ravi that a residential hotel for retired people in Bangalore would be a brilliant success all round - the elderly would live a pampered life in a beautiful climate at a much lower cost than in the UK, and they would make a shedload of money. They even look ahead to a whole chain of such places in other developing countries. Sonny finds a cheap hotel, persuades the owner that it would be to his advantage to have the security of long-term residents, does it up a bit and produces glossy promotional material trumpeting the beauties of Bangalore and the advantages of living cheaply but luxuriously in such a wonderful climate. We then get the back stories of a number of people, who for various reasons - mostly financial - decide to take the plunge and become residents of The Marigold. Evelyn needed to move because her current Care Home was closing and the land being developed. Her son had invested her capital badly and she couldn't afford anything decent in the UK. He lived in the US, and her New-Agey daughter spent a lot of her time in India, so there was nothing holding her here. She was shown a copy of Sunny's glossy advert by the Home's manicurist Dorothy used to produce current affairs programmes for the BBC, Single and suffering from painful arthritis she found everyday tasks in her London flat a struggle, and although she was cared about Adam, a younger gay man she had nurtured in his early career she saw less and less of him. By mistake she receives Sonny's promotional video, which Adam had meant to address to someone else. Muriel was the lady who had been left on a hospital trolley for two days. She lived in Peckham, had done all her life, although her son Keith kept saying she should move to a better, safer area - to Chigwell, where he lived. but Muriel didn't want to move any nearer to Keith's sarky wife. Recovered from her fall, and back home, Muriel was mugged while out shopping and had another, less confrontational trip to the hosital. Several hours later she returned home to find that the muggers had used the key from her stolen handbag to enter and trash her flat - and had killed her beloved elderly cat. Unable to raise Keith on the phone she took a taxi all the way out to Chigwell where she found her son's house empty. His neighbour explained that Keith was in trouble with the police and had fled the country in order to find the business associate he held responsible. He is in India, Norman, Ravi's son-in-law. Following an operation for prostate problems his libido had perked up, and he thought he'd got a better chance of finding a young female companion in India. His daughter Pauline was puzzled by his sudden enthusiasm for the move. Jean & Doug Ainslie are a globe-trotting couple whose son had sent them the promotional video. Other residents at the hotel are; Madge Rheinhart beautifully groomed, self possessed and on the lookout for a rich maharajah; cat lover Eithne Pomeroy and Graham Turner, who keeps himself pretty much to himself. They all gradually succumb to the shabby but cosy atmosphere of the hotel, building relationships amongst themselves, with the staff and with the beggars, children and workers in the neighbourhood. Some have agendas they do not divulge to the others, and spend time hoping or actively seeking to fulfill them. The approach of Christmas, and the planned visits of some relatives, plus a couple of slightly unlikely coincidences, brings both sorrow and happiness to the residents of The Marigold. At about halfway I was struggling to "cast" the characters in the book with the actors (many my favourites) who starred in the film, so I went and had a look at the Wikipedia page for the film. I was shocked to see just how many changes had been made - mostly to the back-stories of the characters I had been getting to know. If you have seen the film you probably won't recognise it here, and I might have to think carefully about watching it if it's ever shown on TV.
I read a couple of Deborah Moggach's books back in the early '90s, and remembered them as undemanding but very enjoyable. Since then, I suppose, I have looked for reading material that is a bit more 'literary' and required more effort on my part, so have not bothered to look at any more of her novels. My 'Booklist' for the last two years has been very short, so that seems to have been a mistake, as I appear not to have been putting in enough effort. It has been a pleasant relief to pick up a book that I can just whiz through and enjoy. I had heard Tulip Fever talked about several times on the radio at the time it was published, and was intrigued by the background of "tulipomania" against which the story is told, and it has had a couple of mentions in Central Library threads here, so when I chanced upon it last year, second-hand, I added it to my groaning bookshelves. It is the story of love, infidelity and intrigue set in the Netherlands at the time of the C17 tulip craze, when fortunes were being made from dealing in tulip bulbs. There is less than I would have liked about the actual trade in tulips and the meteoric rise in their value, or the harsh measures that the Dutch government eventually took to halt the mania. That would have been quite interesting in view of our current government's handling of our financial situation. The trade in bulbs does, however, play a significant part in the fate of the main pair of lovers in this story - Sophia, the young wife of an elderly rich merchant, and Jan, her lover, the artist commissioned to paint the couple's portrait. As their affair becomes more risky Sophia finds herself blackmailed by her maid, who has her own desperate situation to face, and comes up with a crazy, complicated scheme which should help both women.But it needs financing, and that's where the tulip dealing comes in. It's not difficult to see where the story is leading, and it ends as one would expect, with much happiness in some quarters, and disappointment in others. There is certainly more to DM's books than I had misremembered, including a pleasantly comic strand, so I will happily pick up more of her books.
Deborah Moggach is one of those well-selling female authors who's sometimes looked down on for not being literary. Like Joanna Trollope or Anita Shreve, say her detractors, she's a popular - populist - author churning out domestic sagas on a conveyor belt. This simplification does these successful authors a disservice. They may deal with the everyday and their prose may indeed be accessible and non literary, but that doesn't mean their work should be undervalued. Any author that can bring reading to the masses deserves praise, and, as with Richard and Judy's recommended titles, sometimes first impressions are just plain biased. In The Dark is a frisky love story set during WW1. Attractive Eithne Clay has a variety of lodgers in her large dilapidated London home. Her loyal maid Winnie and adolescent son Ralph help her run the place. Eithne, however, has always felt she's destined for higher things, and when excitement enters her life in the form of the lusty hulking form of Neville Turk the local butcher, she is swept up into a passionate affair. Meanwhile, the lives of those around them continues, with some disgruntlement. If it weren't for the setting, Moggach's Orange 2008 longlisted novel would just be a bodice-ripper with added colour from peripheral characters. But Moggach has done her research and the smog-ridden, sooty London of 1916 - 18 really comes alive. Because the details are so convincing, the characters also rise from the page. Very occasionally, a word that is so archaic crops up that one wonders whether it has been planted just for the sake of its age, for instance when Moggach describes Ralph's 'pollutions' at night (use your imagination). And, because the descriptions conjure such a vivid picture of the era and because the dialogue is so appropriate for that time, the odd anachronism jars, for instance, when one character mulls over whether someone has chronic bronchitis, a medical term that almost certainly wouldn't have been coined then. There's also a scene where it's mentioned that the maid normally washes seven pairs of Mrs Clay's underpants a week: one can't help wondering if in those days a daily bath and change of clothes was de rigeur. While the novel couldn't be said to be prosaically ambitious, or, therefore, linguistically unusually outstanding, the simple, accessible language suits the story which chugs along briskly like the steam-belching trains described. It's the kind of atmospheric, brooding story that would adapt well to TV, and there's all the requisite angst, sex and moodiness. All in all, In the Dark is a light but absorbing read with plenty of frissons of excitement. Not a literary masterpiece, but then, it doesn't pretend to be. ***00 1/2