Louise Dean - The Old Romantic (2 stars)

Louise Dean - The Old Romantic

(Fig Tree)

There’s plenty of mileage to be had, both in terms of pathos and comedy, from the subject matter of death. Sadly, this tepid novel fails to capitalise on its dark premise, being neither moving nor funny, despite trying for both. Ken is an old man living in Kent, who is obsessed with his own death and planning his funeral, to the extent that he even helps out at the local undertakers. He’s curmudgeonly, divorced once and heading for a second one, and estranged from his son Nick.

There is another son, Dave, who is so tedious and clichéd a character he makes your head throb. In fact, The Old Romantic is full of wafer-thin stereotypes, from reinvented Nick to his miserable father and all points in between. Louise Dean is clearly aiming for something insightful about modern families and their dysfunction, but she misses the mark by a long way.


1. Louise Dean6 Aug 2010, 7:56am Report

People seem to tumble down to Hastings and not get up to go home again. It’s where they turn up, every Jack and Jill that ever fell out with the family, lost a job, had half an idea, got a bad habit. The town is a huddle of administrative towers and down-at-heel shops with their backs turned on the sea views.

Poor Hastings. The steam train once chuffed proudly into Warrior Square, where the statue of the Empress of India stood with her hooded eyes on the sea. The minor royals played here for a season, the gentry’s carriages drew up at the West Hill lift, the bourgeois bought villas in St Leonards.

But now the Olympic-sized bathing pool is gone, the model town vandalized and the pier closed. Rock candy congeals in cellophane under blow heaters, and steel udders drop soft whip in souvenir shops. In the tuppenny arcade, on any given day of the week, there’ll be an old man feeling for change in the trays.

The seafront west to St Leonards is a parade of four-storeyed Regency guesthouses that display ‘For Sale’ or ‘To Let’ signs. In size and colour, they are as uniform as a pack of custard creams and nothing bothers the skyline until the end of the promenade where ‘Marine Court’ soars—a 1930s fantasy, a block of flats masquerading as a cruise liner.

Where the seafront ends, the buildings kneel, going from three storeys to two, and the twentieth century bobs and jogs along in semis until it’s brought up short at the Bo Peep pub. On a blackboard tied to a lamp post, the pub has two bands chalked up for this weekend:; Friday night’s ‘Shameless Behaviour’ will be followed on Saturday by ‘Dirty Shoes’. From here on is the road to Bexhill, a few miles of terraced houses, lining a corridor through which the traffic is relentless. This is the area known as Bulverhythe; it is where his father lives now.

Nick’s shoulders round as he scans the house names. He ducks when they pass under a railway bridge, and slows the Range Rover to a crawl. Those obliged to go round him honk censoriously, all the heavier on the horn because of the car it is.

‘A bungalow,’ Dave said. ‘You’ll find it.’

His father’s is the only house reduced to a single storey of meanness on this street and it’s the worst placed. Two lanes of traffic careen down the steep hill from the right and spill cars outside the old man’s place, branching left and right at his very front door. Ken lives slap bang on the junction, and in between the traffic lights.

Nick pulls up on to onto the pavement without indicating, and the pair of them, he and Astrid, sit tight with the great car rattling and shuddering in the wake of the abuse and hooting of the passing cars.
It is fifteen years since he last saw his father.

2. Louise Dean6 Aug 2010, 7:56am Report

Chapter One. The Old Romantic. Thank you.

3. Tom C13 Aug 2010, 9:48am Report

I'm surprised by this rather tepid review. I'd never heard of Louise Dean before reading this book and I enjoyed this book so much I wonder where I've been in missing out on her three previous novels. If anyone is interested they could read my review on my bookblog here - http://acommonreader.org/old-romantic-louise-dean-fig-tree/

4. Louise Dean26 Aug 2010, 5:17pm Report

For other reviews - see www.louisedean.com

The Times
August 21 2010

‘Dean writes with beautifully controlled clarity about family ties, social class, the generation gap and the vanished England of the past. She’s extremely funny, but also humane and moving.’

‘this delightful, eccentric novel’ The Observer

‘dark, scurrilous and richly comic novel...terrific’ Financial Times
‘compassionate and amusing’ TLS

‘a clever plot and plenty of surprises’ The Sunday Times

‘Dean's observations have a lyrical intensity few can match’ The Guardian
‘a tragicomic subtlety, a pin-sharp ear for dialogue and a flair for every nuance of character and class’ The Independent

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