The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

30107954The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick is a simply magical story about a sad and rather lonely widower, named Arthur Pepper who, a year after his wife dies, finally faces up to the emotionally painful task of sorting his beloved Miriam’s clothes. Among her belongings, he finds a quite beautiful and ornate charm bracelet. Unable to recall seeing it, let alone his wife wearing it, Arthur can’t help but be intrigued by what the charms signify and wonders if they could possibly represent an aspect or aspects of his wife, about which he remained blissfully unaware.

When he concludes that the engraving on the small gold elephant charm is actually an international number, the normally orderly and ordinary Arthur does something extraordinary: he rings it. What he learns from that phone call sets Arthur on an incredible journey into his wife’s past and the woman she once was. But it also takes the usually reticent Arthur on his own voyage of personal discovery as he meets people who wouldn’t usually cross his path, travels to exotic locations and finds his normally tight boundaries challenged and shifted in ways he’d never conceived. The more he learns about his wife’s past, the more he learns about himself, them as a couple and even as a family. Scared his life up until now has somehow been fraudulent, a lie he ignorantly lived, Arthur is both anxious but determined to uncover the truth: who was his Miriam and why on earth did she settle for him, if she even did?

Heart-wrenchingly lovely, unexpected in wonderful ways, this is a novel with soul and more than a little charm. I found myself thinking about it for days afterwards and cannot recommend it enough. Lyrical, insightful and moving it is a reader’s delight.

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Book Review: First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

My first impressions of this lovely novel by Charlie Lovett were more than favourable as I lost myself in this skilfully woven dual narrative of a modern young woman, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, plagiarism, loFirst Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austenve and so much more.

Book lover and Jane Austen aficionado, Sophie Cunningham, not only comes into an unexpected and bitter-sweet inheritance, but takes a job with an antiquarian book dealer in London. Grieving, confused about where her life is leading, but happy, as always, to take solace from books and the unexpected attentions of an American traveller, she has her suspicions aroused when two completely different customers request the same obscure and trifling book, the Little Book of Allegories, second edition by a Reverend Richard Mansfield, in a matter of days. One of the customers is the handsome and incorrigible Winston, the other a shady, threatening voice on the end of the phone, George Smedley, who promises Sophie a great deal of trouble if she does not fulfil his request.

Segueing back to 1796, the novel also follows the developing and touching friendship of aspiring young novelist, Jane Austen, and the octogenarian, Richard Mansfield. Sharing a love of words and stories, as well as confidences, Jane and Richard become very attached and propose to help each other’s ambitions by embarking on a literary project together.

In the meantime, Sophie’s efforts to locate the obscure book by the Reverend Mansfield unearth a potentially huge literary scandal involving Austen and the authorship of Pride and Prejudice. Torn between two very different men and their intentions towards her and the book she is tasked to find, as well as the dangers posed by Smedley and the threats he continues to unleash, Sophie’s search becomes a matter of life, death and literary reputations. Who can she trust and what will she do with the truth once she unravels it?

Lovett’s writing is delightful and you sort of fall into this charming tale and its captivating and quite riveting premise regarding Austen. It requires a complete suspension of disbelief which I had no trouble, especially in the first half of the book, performing. In fact, the parts of the novel focussed on 1796 are simply enchanting and Jane Austen and the Reverend make a wonderful pair and their project fascinating for all sorts of reasons. As a consequence, some of the action and decisions of Sophie and the events that occur in contemporary times lack lustre and a bit of conviction. The final parts of the book especially are weak by comparison and the plot doesn’t thicken so much as congeal.

The romance in the modern part is also an attempt, it seems, to mimic the Darcy/Wickham plot in Pride and Prejudice. I think it suffers by comparison with the original but there’s also a sense in which it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, humour liberally peppers the modern section suggesting a joy and cheekiness as well as a homage to the greatest of romance plots, which also allows you to forgive its weaknesses.

But, what I loved most about this book (apart from having Jane Austen as a character and the lovely prose), was its unabashed celebration of writing, reading and books and the role stories play in our lives. How they enrich, educate, provide comfort, mystery and romance. Lovett is a bibliophile par excellence and his utter pleasure in books and reading is contagious. I found myself murmuring in agreement and gratification at some of the words and thoughts he allocates to characters regarding reading and authors.

Overall, a real pleasure to engage with and imagine.

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