Sweet Old World is a stunning, unputdownable novel, with an interesting twist: its protagonist, David, is a middle-aged man and a little lost: he longs for a child. He meets Tania under unusual circumstances, in a remote part of Ireland, and their intense affair kindles a new hope in him that he will, now, some day be a father.
The novel is about their affair and its endpoint, which is one of the most affecting endings to a book I’ve read for ages. The story is thought-provoking: about our lives (surely what the best novels make us examine) and the directions some people’s lives take without their permission, as it were. How we might find ourselves, aged thirty or forty, living in a way we really didn’t mean to. And whether that’s in any way recoverable – how much say do we really have on the most important aspects of our existence? It’s also very much about humanity – how we interact with our friends and our lovers and our family, and the effect they have on us.
Deborah layers and surrounds her main storyline with peripheral ones that are fascinating: London in the 1980s, when CJD, or mad cow disease was gripping the nation with fear, and the community he meets on the Aran Islands are just two that come to mind. And Deborah has a wry humour and writes many incisive scenes that make you laugh and wince. David’s date with a librarian in Galway will be familiar to anyone who has gone on too many dates. So I think the novel has a lightness of touch and a real warmth to it, even when it’s dealing with quite dark subject matter.
Finally, she is a taut and clever writer: her economy of words and tight plot make the book so compelling. The publisher, Nikki, and I both agree it’s the kind of novel you’d read in one night and want to discuss immediately the next morning! The twist I alluded is that many novels and articles are published about middle-aged women’s longing for children that they might now never have, but men are rarely mentioned. Yet there must be a swathe of them who feel the same but can’t, or won’t, talk about this sense of loss.
Many thanks to our Guest Blogger: Catherine Hill, from Random House Australia