The Old Romantic by Louise Dean

Last year, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Louise Dean’s novel, Becoming Strangers, and then this year I was fortunate indeed to get my hands on a review copy of Dean’s latest, The Old Romantic. It’s reviewed at Mostly Fiction, so I won’t repeat myself too much here, but here’s a brief outline:

The novel begins with a reunion-from-hell for the long-estranged Goodyew family. Barrister Nick has spent years avoiding his parents, and part of that avoidance is manifested in his attempts to reinvent himself. He used to be called Gary, and when he dropped the name and attended university, he left his working class roots behind. Or so he thought.

The reunion takes place at Xmas with Nick and his girlfriend, upwardly mobile spa owner Astrid, picking up Nick’s grumpy old dad, Ken and his second wife, June for Xmas dinner at the home of Nick’s younger brother Dave. Within just a couple of pages, we see a tangled mess of relationships and the sort of nasty remarks that are only ever directed towards family members. The rest of the novel follows the relationships between the Goodyew family as various events occur.

If you’ve ever wondered why you bother with your relatives, then chances are you will enjoy the book. It’s lively and very, very bitterly funny in its exploration of family politics.  Nick’s dad Ken is arguably the star of the show, and as the book continues there are many hilarious scenes which made me laugh out loud. One of the best scenes takes place at a swanky restaurant at dinner attended by Astrid’s parents, the snobbish Linda and Malcolm, Nick and Astrid, and Nick’s dad Ken. This is an important meal, Ken is the unexpected guest, and Astrid’s parents receive no advance warning. Ken (who reminds me a great deal of Albert Steptoe) dominates:

Ken slapped the closed menu down onto the table. ‘All too dear,’ he said, tight-lipped and final.

Nick’s professional experience in dealing with difficult people in challenging circumstances persuaded him to coax the old boy.

‘It’s actually very reasonable, Dad. A nice, elegant menu, not too pretentious. If you tot it up, it works out quite a good deal if each of us takes the prix fixe.’

But he wasn’t speaking Ken’s language. ‘Too dear.’ Ken reiterated.

‘There’s liver and bacon, Dad, on at fifteen. You like liver and bacon, don’t you? That’s right up your street.’

‘Do me a favour! Fifteen nicker for a bit of offal. They sin you coming, sunshine.’ Ken made a bid of the other couple’s opinion. ‘What d’you think, Malcolm? Dear, innit?’

Nick leant back in his chair, putting his mouth close to his father’s ear, to escape the audible range of their table.

‘Just fucking order something, all right?’

Ken closed his eyes.

A bit later, Ken makes his menu choice:

Ken cleared his throat. ‘I’ll have the tamada soup.’

‘The…what’s that? I can’t see it on the menu….’ said Linda, with murderous eloquence.

‘There’s always a tamada soup on the menu.’

Malcolm tried to look wry and debonair, both old-fashioned and modern, with one side of his face doing the 1950s and the other lost in space.

‘Tomato soup.’ Astrid came to the rescue. ‘As in Heinz.’

‘That’s the job,’ said Ken.

‘He doesn’t get out much,’ said Nick to the waitress.

‘And tap water, please,’ said Ken. ‘From the tap, please, miss. Yes. Thank you. And I’ll have some bread with my soup, ta. I don’t drink much, do you Linda? Don’t feel the need.’

So two winners in a row from Dean. 



Filed under Dean Louise, Fiction

13 responses to “The Old Romantic by Louise Dean

  1. pris robichaud

    Wow, you have a winner here. Will read ASAP.

  2. I remember your review of Becoming Strangers.
    That’s the kind of things I’d like, but reading the quotes, I’d better wait for a translation.
    (what does “All too dear” mean ? Too expensive ? Too fancy?)

  3. I bought this after having read the review by Tom C last year. I really want to read it. He didn’t make it sound that funny though. The quotes are hilarious. I like reading about family gatherings especially since I’m off the hook in this life as most members of my family “opted” for an early departure. But I can remember those I experienced in my childhood… They always ended in tears and one party not being on talking terms with the other for a year or two.

    • I found it to be very funny. There’s one scene when the dad drags his two sons off to Wales. The longer they are on the trip, the more the sons revert to this sort of tribal behaviour. It wouldn’t be pretty if they were confined together for too long.

  4. It does sound very funny. I loved the “just fucking order something” – particularly given what Ken then orders…

    • I really really enjoyed this book, and it’s interesting that you picked out that particular sentence as when I read it, I could see myself saying that exact thing. The dialogue is, I think, very real.

      • I could very easily picture that. It was a very nicely judged bit of dialogue.

        • It was difficult to pick just one. There’s another favourite bit when the dad and the two sons drive to Wales to retrieve money they think the dad’s wife, (June) has stolen. It starts off as a miserable trip but by the time they come back, they’ve devolved to this tribe-like behaviour which includes indulging in junk food. It is hilarious, and the author really describes well how the 3 men cling to their shared values.

  5. Thanks for stopping by Louise.

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