Nothing otherworldly happens in this feel-good debut novel, yet the story of an English widower who goes rummaging in his late wife’s past has the quality of a fable.
A mild-mannered pensioner from York, the title character—described by an ex-girlfriend as “timid and a bit twitchy”—is tethered to his domestic routines, hardly ever leaving the house. All that changes when he happens upon a mysterious gold bracelet—with eight distinctive charms—that belonged to his beloved wife, Miriam. Screwing up his courage, he embarks on a journey that will take him far from his comfort zone as he tracks down the story behind each ornament. Along the way, our 69-year-old hero finds himself fending off a tiger, having an audience with a famous author who may or may not have been his wife’s lover, getting mugged in a Tube station, and posing naked for an art class. Unsurprisingly, he learns as much about himself through these adventures as he does about Miriam. The writing is breezy, and Arthur’s escapades are, well, charming, at least some of the time. The book flirts with real emotion, too: Arthur’s grief over the loss of his wife is palpable, and his sadness at the estrangement of his adult children feels quite genuine. You may even, against your better judgment, shed a few tears as he endeavors to set things right with them. Yet each bad turn in the book comes wrapped in a teachable moment; each cloud has an unmistakable silver lining.
The author’s outlook remains relentlessly upbeat, and in the end, this sentimental novel is as cozy and fortifying as a hot cup of tea on a cold afternoon.