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From self-help to help yourself
on 28 June 2010
Ranging from early twentieth century Turkey, to Australia, to modern-day London, this is a romantic and tragic story of betrayal and missed opportunities. How far would you stretch your morals for the chance to inherit £17 million?
Andy Larkham's life and career are going nowhere. He works for a small publishing house, Carpe Diem, that specialises in publishing self-help books, his fiancée is about to dump him and he has no money and mountains of debt. And that's before we begin to talk about his dysfunctional family. His only real role model was the Montaigne-loving teacher, Stuart Furnivall, whose funeral he is late for. But an unexpected inheritance of £17 million has a habit of changing one's outlook on life. But while he trades self-help for help yourself, Andy also realises that he has inherited a mystery.
The first half of the book is an often amusing story of one of life's losers struggling to cope with strange twists in his life. I was reminded very much of Nick Hornby or Jonathan Coe in style, but the book changes tack half way through as we explore the back story of his mystery benefactor. And while I throughly enjoyed both parts of the book, I couldn't help but feel that the two stories didn't quite fit together as smoothly as they could have done. I'd grown quite attached to Andy in the first half, but for the vast majority of the second half, he is merely an observer to a story of globe-spanning intrigue that takes in early twentieth century Turkey and Australia. I don't want to reveal too much about this part of the book though lest it affects your enjoyment of the first half.
Yes, there are themes that are reflected in both stories - lost love, unexpected wealth, broken families and missed opportunities, but the two stories seem to exist next to each other rather than melding as perhaps one would ideally like.
Ultimately though it's story about identity and finding your place in the world - both themes explored by Montaigne - and Nicholas Shakespeare is a thoughtful and highly readable writer. The benefactor's story in particular is absorbingly told and could easily have been extended to an epic tale in its own right, and even the most unlikely events are rendered believable in his hand. This is perhaps more what fans of Nicholas Shakespeare's fiction might expect from him, but he proves equally at home in the lighter, more comic moments.
It's certainly a fun, if slightly uneven, read. There's romance, moral dilemmas and a story of betrayal that unfolds that you almost certainly won't see coming. And it asks thoughtful questions about what we inherit from our parents.