Widows and Orphans by Michael Arditti

widows and orphansUnfulfilled promise…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Duncan Neville is the owner and editor of the Francombe & Salter Mecury, a regional newspaper that has been in his family for generations but is now struggling to survive in the era of online news. Francombe is a (fictional) English seaside resort, popular in its Victorian heyday but with its glory days well behind it. Duncan has been campaigning to have the old Victorian pier renovated, but now it has been bought over by a property developer who plans to turn it into an adults only zone based on the sleazier side of life. Duncan’s personal life is as decayed as the town – his marriage broken, his relationship with his teenage son difficult, and his mother and sister expecting to continue to live well off the income from the family business, while Duncan himself is reduced to living in the flat above the newspaper offices. However, things begin to look up when he meets the lovely Ellen…

At first, I thought I was really going to enjoy this book. It starts off well, with an introduction to the remaining small staff of the newspaper and a good depiction of the run-down state of the resort. Duncan is portrayed as an upholder of tradition trying, Canute-like, to hold back the tides of change. The prose is gentle and flowing and interspersed with some nice observational humour.

However, I’m afraid this early positive impression soon wore off. What at first seems gentle soon turns into dull, and the nostalgic tone of the book veers uncomfortably close to sentimentality. Even the humour begins to feel as if it has been inserted artificially, rather than arising from the natural flow. In the beginning it feels as if Duncan is going to be a campaigner, fighting for the things he believes in, but as the book goes on, he turns out to be just a rather overwhelmed middle-aged man, not very good at relationships or business…or anything, really. His attitudes seem blinkered and far too old-fashioned for a man of his age, and frankly, he whinges. His ‘leader articles’ from the paper are inserted between the chapters of the book. I assume these are meant to give an insight into Duncan’s character and his mildly left-wing principles, but they feel like a device for the author to make his own political points rather than having much to do with the thrust of the story.

Michael Arditti
Michael Arditti

The story itself (I deliberately haven’t used the word plot) meanders slowly on in a downward spiral, touching too lightly on some serious subjects – anti-immigrant feelings, homophobia, porn etc. I suspect the correct response of the reader is to shake her head, click her tongue and sigh over the iniquities of modern life. This reader, however, found that she was sighing over the superficiality of the book. The premise is interesting and so much could have been done with it to take a look at some of the real problems faced by people living in towns whose historical function has gone, but I feel the opportunity was missed. Instead, we get a kind of mini middle-class family saga, with Duncan’s curiously emotionless relationships taking centre stage, and all leading up to an ending so sickly sweet one questions if even Dickens would have dared do it.

Overall, not a bad book – the writing is fine and some of the points it raises are interesting. But the execution doesn’t live up to the promise and in the end I was left disappointed and rather relieved that it was over.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Arcadia Books Ltd.

Amazon UK Link
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50 thoughts on “Widows and Orphans by Michael Arditti

  1. Ah, shame when a book doesn’t live up to its premise or potential! With some novels I just feel they might have worked better if they’d been shorter – a novella or even a short story.

    • It was a pity with this one, because the basic premise is so interesting that I felt there was real scope. And the writing style was good on the whole. But he kinda got tangled up in the personal relationships side of things to the detriment of the wider story. Oh well!

  2. I’m getting off very lightly this week – this is the kind of book that brings out all my worst instincts. I hate whingers, who, curiously, are often depicted as middle-class and reasonably well-educated. Perhaps truly poor and oppressed people are too busy getting on with it to whinge?

    • I fear that’s because so many authors are middle-class and reasonably well-educated, and they tend to think their concerns are shared by everyone else. But I find middle-aged middle-class relationship angst one of the least interesting things in the world…

  3. Gee, thanks for the heads-up on this one, FF! When I read your opening paragraph, I thought it sounded like just the sort of book I could enjoy, being a former newshound myself and all. But if the author blew his chance to make it a gripping read, to make something happen, then I guess it’s probably best for me to pass!! Perhaps those are the very reasons this one isn’t on the best seller list??!

    • Oh, were you a journalist? That must have been interesting! I love books about journalists actually – they have so much scope for getting involved in all aspects of life without it seeming unrealistic. But I’m afraid this one just descended to the usual middle-aged relationship stuff, and lost me as a result. The potential to really get into the politics and society of a decayed town was missed somehow. Told you it would start to go downhill soon… 😉

  4. I know exactly what you mean, FictionFan, about unfulfilled promise in books like this. When I read them, I sometimes find myself thinking, ‘OK, now, where is this going? Oh….this is where it’s going. Ooooh-kay.’ Shame, too, because as you point out, this is a really fascinating premise for a story. No, don’t think this one’ll leap to the top of my TBR, ‘though I may read it at some point.

    • It’s a pity, because sometimes the more interesting the premise, the more disappointing when the author doesn’t quite pull it off. Apart from anything else, it probably attracts the wrong sort of reader – if this had been billed as what it is – middle-aged relationship saga – I’d have given it a wide berth and it wouldn’t have ended up with my fairly negative review.

      • An excellent argument for careful and truthful marketing (blurbs and the like). There are people who do go for such books and might not read this, since that’s not how it’s billed. As you say, it’s a shame.

        • Yes, I do think it’s a shame when the blurb attracts the ‘wrong’ reader and fails to grab the ‘right’ one. One reason to read reviews before buying… but that doesn’t work with pre-publication copies, I fear.

  5. I really like the point you make about the difference between a gentle story and a dull one. I’ve struggled to articulate that before. Too bad this read sounds like a wash!

    • I know – it’s hard for an author to maintain ‘gentle’ while still keeping it interesting. I suppose that’s why most of them go for drama. But personally I need at least a little bit of drama to hold my attention, and the basic premise of this suggested there could be lots more drama than it turned out. Oh well!

  6. Nice ripio! I confess, this professor would’ve probably been bored. I think he should have moved. To a town with more interesting things. Like battle, for instance.

    He looks like a nice chap. But his last name is impossible to say!

    • This FF was bored too! I think he should have led a riot and changed the town – he should have become a Red and formed a union and beaten up the cops and looted all the shops and given the food to the poor! Admittedly this may be because of GOW…

      He does look nice. Makes me feel a bit mean…

            • *is sorely tempted to say “Acts 4:32-35” but decides she’d better not, so chuckles and runs off instead*

              You should’ve stayed 21 like me! Then you could have flirted for ever…

            • *laughs* I fear not – google is my friend! Still Leviticus. (It is! It sooo is! In fact, it’s almost… communism! But it’s a good thing anyway…)

              Poor old Prof! *hands over wrinkle cream*

            • *laughs* Tricky thing! (It’s so far, I wouldn’t even begin to tell you how far! But you might have a point. Remember what RR said: “Socialism only works in two places: Heaven where they don’t need it, and hell where they already have it.”)

              That’s okay: I hide my wrinkles on the back of my neck.

            • I’ve been reading all about John Knox and having to look things up in the Bible constantly. Just as well I got one! (I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t have been a right-wing capitalist either – somewhere in the middle, most likely. Which is the best place to be. *laughs* RR?! You’ll never persuade me of anything by quoting RR, you know, you know…)

              Euww! Like a rhinoceros!

            • When I visit you, I’ll bring you a whole host of books, to keep you busy for a while. I’m getting a list for you, see. A secret one. How do you find Knox? (He actually will be! You say it like it’s a bad thing… *laughs* *gasps* Best president ever! And to think I wasn’t even around when he was in office!)

              *laughing lots and lots* But…look at that horn (katana).

            • *scared face* Oh dear! Can they wait till I finish the Bible, at least? I am intrigued though… Well, Dawson has changed my opinion of him a little, but he’s still a misogynistic old killjoy. But then… *scurries off quickly* (Will be what? Right-wing capitalist? Or middle of the road? I’m sorry, I just can’t put Jesus in the same camp with RR and wee Georgie Bush – I think too highly of him!. You have more chance of changing my mind about religion than about RR… *giggles*)

              You carry it on your nose?! *impressed face*

            • Of course they can! Actually, I’ll never be so mean as to make you read these. Poor Mr. Knox! *laughs about killjoy* I didn’t know killjoy was a word! Sounds like what Darby is! You always scurry away before you say something very interesting… (George Bush?! You can throw him out, if you like. On his bahooky, too. *laughs and shakes head* Madam!)

              *laughing lots* I’ve never tried…now that you, the sudden, mention it.

            • Phew! Anyway at my current rate it’ll be about 2025 before I’m through! Some of Leviticus is quite interesting though – *laughs* can’t think what, right now, but I remember thinking ‘Oh, that’s quite interesting’ at the time… Darby is the antithesis of Knox! It’s actually usually because I think you’ll find what I was about to say offensive… (One of my favourite things is when Georgie fell on his bahooky when he was in Edinburgh…)

              Well, I refuse to take the blame if you accidentally cut your head off! *holds out basket*

            • *laughs* Well, I think I’m glad you find some parts interesting! But…you should really remember! You’re getting my memory it seems, as you age. I’d probably just laugh…I usually laugh instead of taking offense. I should maybe switch that up a bit. (*laughing* Did he really? That’s so awesome.)

              You’ve got a basket for that sort of thing?!

            • As I age?!? As I AGE!!! I thought I had made it clear that I never age!! Cheeky Chicky! *stomps off in an extraordinarily youthful manner* (He did! *chuckles*)

              Yes, I keep it underneath the guillotine in my garden. Saves mess.

        • Looking ahead, I’m not sure you’ll be missing much that would take your fancy anyway. Have a good week – hope you’re doing somehting enjoyable! 🙂

          • We are heading to farm school with our son. A week of camping for the kids, teachers, and some parents. We will be staying in a cottage by the beach and driving to farm school every day in the afternoon. There’s swimming in a pond, outdoor science classes, a mindfulness class where they make sound maps while sitting quietly on a rocky outcrop, poetry writing, meal prep, cleaning up after meals, a talent show, a night hike where they have to walk in the dark alone down a path back to camp, etc. It makes them a bit more mature to take on responsibilities, including packing out and or recycling all of the garbage we produce. Good stuff. 😀

            • Sounds like fun! I remember you blogging about the night hike last year. Have a great time – and don’t let the ghosties and ghoulies get you!

  7. It sounded like it was boring. I’ve read books that left me relived when I finally saw “The End.” In fact, I have one on my Kindle that every time I pick it up I immediately begin to yawn. And it has nothing to do to the time of day. It was meant to be inspirational, but it seems to inspire me to delete. Thanks for reading it…I won’t.

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