Monday, March 2, 2015

Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach

Buffy is an aging retired actor of some renown and success. He was formerly introduced by the author in her book Ex-Wives (2006). Vexed by the current pace and direction of life in his once beloved London, he unexpectedly inherits a run-down, aging B&B in Wales from a dear old friend.  The town in which the B&B is located is a slow-paced contrast to London. The town is also a bit run-down, suffering from economic downturn caused by investment banks, and has the feel of life from former decades.

Buffy, deciding to keep the B&B, moves in. How to keep it full with paying guests to cover his bills becomes Buffy's new challenge when his accountant daughter shows him the economic realities.

Author Deborah Moggach leisurely builds up to this through bits and pieces about Buffy's career, habits, children, former wives and liaisons. She also introduces some other characters who become more significant later in the book. At first the reader might wonder where this is all going and how do these people tie into the story. But Moggach crafts her story lines well.

With an idea of how to bring in guests, both the story and Buffy's life take a clearer direction. Ingeniously, Buffy comes up with the idea to offer week-long courses, lodging and meals to people who are at a loss after separating from a mate, through divorce or maybe even estrangement or death. His "Courses for Divorces" are intended to teach skills which the guests lack, but which their former mates provided. The courses, taught by hired tutors, would include car repair, cooking, gardening, finance management and Buffy's "How to Talk to Women." Since his own car, garden and kitchen would serve as the learning grounds, much needed auto maintenance, weeding and meal preparation would be accomplished at the same time.

Through these courses Moggach introduces new characters as well as the earlier mentioned ones. With them come their own stories, layers of relationships, past histories and current circumstances. Much as in her successful The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, she weaves all these elements with dry humor and a light touch even when dealing with weightier issues of failure, disappointment, change. Her characters, all adults, range from younger to older. Moggach is addressing the human condition but the reader doesn't feel burdened by it. Rather, the reader is warmed, nods, laughs and says, "Oh, yes, don't I know."

The reader also comes to realize that none of the elements of the story, the B&B, the town, the people, are fully past their prime. Ironically the B&B is not a "heartbreaking" but more of a "heart-mending" place, The final chapter made me think that if  Jon Stewart of The Daily Show read it he would smirk delightedly.

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