NEW! A Perfect Sentence by Patrick Starnes

It’s a common enough theme for a novel. An angst-ridden middle-aged man finds himself redundant on the scrapheap in his 50s, struggles to relate to his family and ends up with a twenty year old girlfriend and, finally, faces the inevitable fallout which, believe me, is quite extreme!

Keir Buchan is the hero, maybe anti-hero, with a competent, sassy wife, Fran, an emotionally confused son, Charlie, and a daughter, called Catherine, who is going through her A Levels and a kind of Gothic phase. Charlie, at the start of the novel, is besotted with a new American girlfriend called Cassie and it all kind of rolls on from there predictably to start with and then, later, surprisingly. Along the way we get a road movie of a journey across southern Europe as everybody’s lives become more chaotic. At the end, the resolution is fairly bleak.

Keir is a difficult character, relatively settled in a job at the Open University and then made redundant. I think perhaps we are meant to sympathise with him but I found him increasingly unlikable. He constantly disparages people from a kind of intellectual snobbery so he manages not to like his in-laws, his wife’s friends, Cassie’s mates and, for long periods of time, his own family. His world view is not pleasant, he behaves badly at dinner parties and is given to nostalgia and self-pity. He also fails to relate to his wife, children and even past lovers but all this is meant to be redeemed by a kind of superior chuckling about the state of the world. He finds trust difficult, some of his reactions to situations are unthinking and he has a tendency to run away and go for long walks rather than confront situations. As you can see, I didn’t like him much!

That doesn’t matter for the first half of the novel which could be summarised as cynical old bastard against the world but, in the second half, not to give too much away, he falls for the son’s girlfriend in a big way. It is hard as a reader to go along with this romantic renewal and excitement and, although poor Cassie joins in, you can’t help thinking that she is looking for the dad who deserted her. Keir, meanwhile, has deserted wife and family and doesn’t feel guilty enough to my mind.

The dénouement is tragic and unexpected and then, contrary to all we have come to expect, Keir does one decent thing and takes the rap. I think this is glossed as is the way in which Fran finds out what he’s done and sort of sympathises as if to approve. Catherine, the daughter, grows up and becomes sensible, surprisingly undamaged by events while the slighted son – totally destroyed – disappears conveniently in India.

It’s an entertaining read and a well written story although I found some of the generalisations about people in general, Americans specifically, and foreign places a little second-hand. I warmed to the wife who was trying to hold everything together and, maybe, the idea is that the man with the midlife crisis finally gets what he deserves but I wasn’t really convinced that I cared by that stage.

(This book is to be published in April 2018. I received a review copy via NetGalley from the publishers, Thistle Publishing.)

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