Source: Review copy
Publication: July 9th 2019 from Tinder Press
James is getting on a bit and needs full-time help. So Phoebe and Robert, his middle-aged offspring, employ Mandy, who seems willing to take him off their hands. But as James regales his family with tales of Mandy’s virtues, their shopping trips, and the shared pleasure of their journeys to garden centres, Phoebe and Robert sense something is amiss. Is this really their father, the distant figure who never once turned up for a sports day, now happily chortling over cuckoo clocks and television soaps?
Then something happens that throws everything into new relief, and Phoebe and Robert discover that life most definitely does not stop for the elderly. It just moves onto a very different plane – changing all the stories they thought they knew so well.
Anyone who has had an elderly parent in need of care will recognise Deborah Moggach’s warm and witty novel, The Carer. James is the father, a widower, living in the Cotswolds. Still with all his mental faculties, it’s just his body that is letting him down a bit. He’s had a couple of not very good carers so when Mandy arrives she’s viewed by his son and daughter as a bit of a blessing.
Robert is the 62 year old son. Married to a TV News presenter, Farida, and with two children, he has left his high flying city job and is now writing a novel in the hut in the bottom of his large London house. Phoebe is single, childless and a mediocre artist in the small Welsh town of Knockton. She’s having a fling with a local man who lives in a shack in the woods. Both these children of James consider themselves far too busy with their lives to look after their father, though both crave his affection and esteem.
Mandy is a larger than life figure. Overweight, from Solihull, she breezes around with her home baking and her stripy tights and soon she and James are getting on like a house on fire. She seems an unlikely companion for James, whose intellect is fierce (he was a particle physicist) but somehow Mandy and he are getting along famously. A little too famously for the likes of Robert and Phoebe who see James growing closer to Mandy than he is to them.
This closeness, coupled with some odd incidents and a passing remark by James, lead the siblings to be concerned over their father, whose health is now rapidly failing and deeply suspicious over the role that Mandy is playing.
Moggach’s characterisation is spot on and she beautifully highlights the difficult and often selfish family dynamics that exist in this, as in every family. She has a brilliant understanding of the inner workings of relationships and a shrewd eye for the absurdities of class.
Moggach explores family relationships, where secrets are sometimes best kept hidden away and sibling rivalries for parental affection can be dramatic and bitter.
Verdict: The Carer is a poignant and realistic look at families and what happens when age catches up with us. It is warm, witty, engaging and absolutely on point. Moggach’s writing is excellent with some grand surprises, great characters and a tender centre.
Deborah Moggach is the author of nineteen successful novels including the bestselling Tulip Fever. In 2012, her novel These Foolish Things was adapted for the screen under the title The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. An award-winning screenwriter, she won a Writers’ Guild Award for her adaptation of Anne Fine’s Goggle-Eyes and her screenplay for the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was nominated for a BAFTA. Deborah has been Chairman of the Society of Authors and worked for PEN’s Executive Committee. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, she was appointed an OBE in the 2018 New Year’s Honours List for services to literature and drama.