Lonely old English widower makes various attempts to get a life.
Aldous Jones, pushing 70, lives alone in a largish house in North London. We have met his family before, in I’ll Go To Bed At Noon (2004), a Man Booker finalist, where the focus was on his wife, Colette, and son, Janus, a raging alcoholic. Now, in the Thatcherite 1980s, Colette and Janus are dead, and two other sons live overseas; only his daughter, Juliette, still resides in London. Aldous, a retired high-school art teacher, is a borderline alcoholic himself. Juliette scolds him for his frequent nips of whisky and points out helpfully that he smells bad. It is she who finds him unconscious after his first fall. A brief hospital stay and a visit with his son Julian in Ostend, Belgium, revive his spirits. The high point is a bohemian party where he nuzzles an exotic black female artist. A trip to Amsterdam is ruined, though, when the woman turns up with her hitherto unmentioned husband. Back in London, another romantic possibility looms when Aldous meets middle-aged Maria in a class on Flemish for Beginners. True, she’s an airhead and a philistine, but Aldous seems to be making progress until she stands him up. Woodward stacks the deck against poor Aldous, making him an uninteresting victim. There’s another dash of the exotic when his other son, James, an anthropologist, descends on him, with his Amazonian Indian wife and child in tow; but after their departure, Aldous is still the same lonely imbiber. He pursues Maria into the workplace, joining her as a volunteer at a school for blind kids, but this leads to disaster as he blurts out a marriage proposal (yes, he’s been drinking), has another fall and is fired. His final project, converting part of his house into an art gallery, offers some black comedy which doesn’t quite work.
A low-key, dreary portrait of old age.