Saturday, April 02, 2016

Widows and Orphans, by Michael Arditti

15/100 I might just be stupid, but the title "Widows and Orphans" didn't seem to me to be at all related to the story. That said, this book by Michael Arditti is very readable, a gentle but accurately observed microcosmic (microcosmal?) portrait of a greedy modern society.

 The book is set in the fictional seaside town of Francombe, once a thriving community but now almost derelict, a nothing town. Duncan Neville is the editor-proprietor of the town's newspaper; he is a good, decent man who is in the unenviable position of trying to run an increasingly irrelevant newspaper on a shoestring budget while trying to expose the machinations of local politicians and businessmen. Geoffrey Weedon, an oily and wily developer, is the worst of the lot and Duncan's arch-enemy, so to speak. Duncan suspects Weedon of destroying the town's historic pier through arson so that he can set up X-rated parlours and clubs, ostensibly to shore up the town's sagging economy. Duncan's efforts to stop this seem particularly useless set against Weedon, who is a smarmy silver-tongued operator who is very good at getting people on his side.

 Things are not rosy in Duncan's private life either. His ex-wife has remarried and his son Jamie is a loathsome little teenage brat - seriously, for most of the book there just isn't anything redeeming about him - his language and attitude towards Duncan are nothing short of shocking. Duncan, however, hurt though he is by Jamie's cruel words and attitude, is not the sort of man who would tell off his son harshly. He is a man who is ruled by his conscience, sensitive to other people's feelings and able to see things from another's point of view. He sees understanding of the flaws in others and is able to look past them, and he is honest in acknowledging his own.

Events build up, however, culminating in Duncan being accused of possessing child pornography - but it is a set-up, and when he finds out who the culprit is, what Duncan feels is not anger for the damage to his reputation; what he feels is grief that someone so young could be so full of hatred towards him.

 This book is certainly not what you would call a fast paced thriller, but it is not short of melodrama either. Human emotions are given free range -  love, dislike, hatred, intolerance, violence... they're all there, The author's writing draws you into the story and makes his characters very real. Michael Arditti certainly managed to make me feel intensely sympathetic towards Duncan and his predicament. I don't think I've come across a character so likable since - dare I say it - Atticus Finch. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a tad, but when you're shouting (in your mind) at obnoxious Jamie to tone down his nastiness towards his dad because he doesn't deserve this behaviour, the author is obviously doing something right for his unlikely protagonist! I would definitely recommend this book as a good read. #100bookpact

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