Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published May 1st, 2016 by MIRA (first published January 29th, 2016)
This one grabbed my attention right away. I mean, look at that cover? And a story with a 69-year-old protagonist? I was so in!
“Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same grey slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.
But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam’s death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam’s possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he’s never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met—a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.“
While reading this, I made three notes in total: “WTF?“, “What a dick!“, and “Pfff“. Let’s take a closer look, shall we.
I started this book with the expectation of it being a comfy read. You know, an older person going on an adventure and all? So I was baffled to find myself bawling my eyes out after just 5-10 pages. I mean, I never cry while reading. Heck, I recently even kind of boasted on here about not ever crying while reading, and then THIS happens. It was like the end scene from the fucking Notebook all over again…
(I didn’t see that one coming either and think I cried for two hours straight while being totally embarrassed about it)
The book starts off with Arthur trying to make it through the day of the one-year anniversary of his beloved wife’s death. The grief is still fresh, the loneliness so palpable. I’ve seen it way too often. The situation in which a spouse dies after having been together for so many years. Of course, (unless you’re the main characters of The Notebook) these kinds of situations are inevitable; you usually don’t die together, so there’s always the one person who’s left behind. I’ve never been able to understand how these particular people cope with it, but somehow they manage because they have to live on. Unless they decide not to, of course.
I recently read an article about a healthy woman who wanted to get euthanised together with her terminally ill husband because she didn’t want to stay behind: her life ended with her husband’s last breath. After doing some more research on this topic, I also found out that you can request a double euthanasia in Belgium even if you’re both still relatively healthy, but just don’t want to deteriorate together or be left alone when the significant other dies before you.
Then there are the so-called suicide pacts where couples want to be in total control of their own deaths. I also came across elderly couples who didn’t die together on the same day, but still relatively short after one another. Both my grandparents died within six months of each other while my grandmother really wasn’t that old or that ill. Having a broken heart might not be a metaphorical term after all.
So yes, all of this poured over me during those first pages of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. While it wasn’t even that depressing; there was humour in those pages as well. But still, it got to me.
Anyhow, let’s move on to the first note I made:
Arthur and Miriam have two children: Dan, who lives in Australia with his wife and kids, and Lucy, who doesn’t live all too far away from her parents in York, England. They were a loving family, there weren’t any fights or whatnot, and yet still, neither Dan nor Lucy attended their mother’s funeral…can I get a WTF from you as well for that? Later in the book, the exact circumstances and reasons to this are explained, but even though there are some good points, they still aren’t an excuse to not go to your own mother’s fucking funeral.
The second note:
“What a dick!“
This was a reference to Lucy’s husband, who might as well have been called Dick anyhow.
A tiny spoiler here, but I promise it won’t ruin the story for you. This is what ‘Dick’ said to Lucy just after she had a miscarriage and her mother passed away:
“There’s been too much sadness. I want to be happy. I want you to be happy. But we can’t be with all the history between us. We need to be apart so we don’t dwell on it. I have to go.“
I made my third note at the end of the book, so let’s look at the story and characters first:
Arthur finds a golden charm bracelet in an old shoe of his wife. There are eight charms attached to it: a tiger, a paint palette, a heart, an elephant, a thimble, a flower, a book, and a ring. Because Arthur has never seen this bracelet before, he wonders where it came from and studies it more thoroughly. When he finds an Indian phone number and decides to call it, his quest to finding out the meanings of all of the eight charms starts. Apparently, Miriam lead quite the vigorous life before she met Arthur, yet never told him anything about it.
It’s lovely to see Arthur coming out of his shell of mourning and hopping from one adventure to the next with the help of Bernadette and her 18-year-old emo son Nathan. Bernadette is a cheerful robust lady who has lost her own husband recently and is now trying to help other ‘lost causes’ by visiting them, baking pies for them, and motivating them to leave the house. A lovely woman, really.
We get to learn more about Lucy (and why the hell she didn’t attend her mother’s funeral) and see her growing closer to her dad again. And that’s what this novel is mainly about: connectedness, love, and family.
This is great and all, and heck, it made me cry, but when you’re expecting adventures of an old man, you want action (or at least, I do). Somewhere around 60% of the book, the pace started to drag a little, and my reading slowed down considerably. Emotional bladeebla and whatnot, while I just wanted to find out about the next charm already!
Which is what note 3 is about:
This refers to an overly dramatic scene which could’ve come straight out of a sappy sentimental movie. Arthus is screaming “Miriam!” at the sea. Maybe I’m a cold-hearted biyatch and all, but pfffff.
Now, with all the crying and emotional stuff, this still isn’t a depressing book. In fact, I also laughed out loud several times.
“A tube of toothpaste was trodden into the mud. In the distance, a herd of goats stared at him. One of them seemed to be munching on a mustard piece of fabric. His bloody sweater-vest. Just then an electronic blast of “Greensleeves” rang out. “
Seeing as this review is already WAY too long, I’ll just hop along to the rating part.
It was pretty hard to give it a proper rating because I obviously did enjoy the book, and it did have an impact on me as well. Yet the dragging parts and the ending weren’t very satisfying to me. The ending isn’t horrible or anything, but it seemed to be an extension of the dragging parts. I just hoped it would’ve been a bit more adventurous; finding out the stories behind the first couple of charms was one big adventure and then the last couple of charms just sort of fell out of the sky and had less of an impressive story behind them. I did like the last couple of pages again, though!
This could’ve been a fantastic 5-starred book, but because it fell a bit short to me, I’m giving it 3.5 brownies and a firm recommendation if any of the above sounds interesting to you (and you’re over 12 years old).
A copy was generously provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion.
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