Top critical review
6 people found this helpful
First half superb, second half less so
on 3 December 2013
What a delight to meet old Buffy again, at 70 nine years older than when we met him in The Ex-Wives (see my review), and Deborah Moggach's warm and earthy humour has not faded either in the twenty years since the earlier novel was published. Or at least this is this is true of the first half of the book.
Buffy is tired of modern London where familiar areas are constantly being redeveloped and where life-styles seem to him to be becoming steadily seedier. So when a comfortable old flame has died and left him her B&B in "Knockton", an old-fashioned friendly little market-town just inside Wales, he decides to move there and run the guest-house himself. The place is distinctly run down and Buffy is impractical - a sturdy local woman does the essential work - and it attracts only a few passing guests. But Buffy is the sort of person to whom guests tell their problems - in one case a wife complains that her husband doesn't know how to talk to women. Now that is something that the much-married Buffy has always been good at, and it occurs to him to earn a little extra money by running residential courses helping divorced people to cope. He would recruit locals to teach people to do the things for which they had always relied on their ex-partners - one week devoted to learning about the inside of cars, another week to cooking, another to gardening. Buffy himself would run a course called How to Talk to Women.
In the first half of the book the chapters about Buffy are interspersed with initially unrelated chapters, each a gem in itself, about Londoners whose marriages or relationships have broken up and who feel lonely, bereft and incompetent: Monica (64), Amy (31), Harold (56) and Andy(40).
Of course they all eventually end up on Courses for Divorces, and, for various reasons, they find such attraction in Knockton that they come to live there. On the first course it is only Amy, together with eight other people we have not met before and who are seen, as it were, from the outside rather than from the inside, and new characters keep on being introduced. I have to say that now, about half-way through the novel, the book loses most of its subtlety, the humour slips from time to time into stereotypes and farce; there are a lot of couplings by people of all ages (Moggach is good on the longings and misgivings of elderly singletons); and the plotting seems to be rather formulaic. At the happy ending even Buffy's surviving ex-wives turn up, and the house is full of his very extended family. It's all warm-hearted - and the last three pages are, tongue-in-cheek, totally incredible.