This has been one of my favourite books to read all year and certainly a perfect way to finish 2015. It’s beautifully written and I’ve never both laughed and cried so much at a book before. While university work stopped me from reading as much as I wanted to, I’m so glad it took me as long as it did because I simply didn’t want it to end. It encapsulates what I think is wonderfully awkward British humour and tugs on the heartstrings through a tale of loss, love and admiration.
Douglas Petersen is a 54-year-old industrial biochemist. He’s cautious, logical and some would say a little uptight but you just can’t help adoring him on his mission to make his wife fall in love with him again. He shares his most precious memories with us of how he and his little family came to be.
On a grand trip around Europe with his wife, Connie, and son, Albie, Douglas can’t seem to get anything right. He traipses around galleries and tries to engage with the culture that surrounds him in an attempt to be exciting and fun – not like the regimented father they know him to be. But, after an argument in a restaurant and some words that should not have been said, in an act of defiance, Albie elopes with a wild accordionist named Cat and turns the family holiday into a solo rescue mission so that Douglas can save his failing relationship with his son.
And slowly but surely, through sheer determination, Douglas abandons his awkward self and becomes a funny and spontaneous man, who will go to lengths to make amends with his son and to show him how much he really cares. He meets an exciting woman who is, also, currently at a cross roads in her life, doesn’t shower or shave for days, gets arrested and even buys a pair of some very out-of-character trainers.
While the break down of Douglas and Connie’s marriage is always at the forefront of his mind and a driving force behind his actions, this novel shows the powerful struggle of a father who just wants his son to be proud of him, but never quite gets it right. Pushing Albie to study practical subjects rather than his passion of photography and an incident where Douglas glues Lego together ends up coming together to paint him, to his wife and to his son, as an uncreative, unsupportive and oppressive father. But I just don’t think that’s true. All he wants is for his son to be prepared for the life ahead of him – and perhaps a post-apocalyptic world. Douglas so badly wants his son to be proud of him, that he wants Albie to want to be like him and for him to appreciate the things he worked hard to do. His determination to be his son’s idol, however misguided, is a beautiful exploration of the struggle parents face in raising their children and experience as the non-favourite parent.
My favourite quotes:
“I am clientele, why you not assist me? Oh yes, I was quite the bad-ass now, quite the bad-ass”
“Mike and Connie’s team were called Mobiles at the Ready, which got a laugh but made me anxious, because that kind of anarchy is just intolerable to me”
“I punched it because nothing hurts a jellyfish more, nothing affronts their sense of dignity, than an underwater punch in the face”