Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach

There's something charming about the idea of bed and breakfasts as opposed to hotels. Since most owners live in the B and B and take care of all aspects of their guests' stays, they have a personal and homely feel to them that you don't find in a larger hotel. And if you have a garrulous innkeeper, you have an automatic friend, someone who, like a bartender, is willing to listen to the stories and circumstances of your life and sometimes even offer advice. In Deborah Moggach's newest novel, Heartbreak Hotel, there is one such innkeeper in the shabby but still perfectly appealing Myrtle House.

Russell Buffery, called Buffy, is a retired actor living in London. He has three ex-wives, a couple of ex-mistresses, and children and stepchildren.  Amazingly, he maintains a cordial relationship of some sort with most of them. When an old friend dies and leaves him a bed and breakfast just over the border in Wales, he surprises everyone (including himself) by deciding to move to Knockton and take on the running of the place. It is a bit run down at the heels and despite not having enough money to do much more than patch, Buffy finds that he rather likes being the friendly, welcoming host. But he needs to fill his rooms on more than just the weekends. Then he has the bright idea to offer instructional weekends for those who have just gotten out of a relationship. The classes are intended to teach the newly single to do all of the things that their spouse or partner used to do for them, like gardening, car maintenance, cooking, basic home repair, and Buffy's own course: how to talk to women. The classes are a moderate success and they bring in a wide cast of characters, among them Harold, a blocked writer whose wife has left him for a woman; Monica, a driven businesswoman who finally realizes that her affair with her married lover meant very little to him and cost her almost a decade of her life; Amy, a movie makeup artist whose long term, rather lackluster, live-in lover surprised her by leaving one day; and Andy, the handsome postman whose marriage to a woman he never really knew well has fizzled out. Add in Buffy's children; Voda, who cooks and cleans for the hotel; and Nolan, still living with his mother and made redundant at his job until he's hired to run the car maintenance course, and you have a whole stew of lonelyhearts trying to learn livable skills, how to be in charge of everything in their own lives, and even how to love or find happiness in the world again.

The characters are pitiable but loveable and each one is grappling with a unique heartbreak situation. Their tenure at Myrtle House will change all of them. Buffy himself will be changed too as he looks back at the past failures in his interpersonal relationships and learns new ways of being with people from his guests. All of the disappointed in love are given extensive backstories, detailing the failed relationships that sent them to Buffy's to learn some heretofore unneeded life skill. While the in-depth information on each of the characters is, in fact, necessary to the story, the way that they are interspersed with Buffy's story, and oftentimes quite removed from their appearance at the bed and breakfast, can make it hard to remember which person at the hotel belongs to which backstory.  But the story is engaging and sweet and Moggach is great at getting the reader to appreciate the myriad of quirky characters. There are moments of biting humor that help keep this from becoming over the top and Moggach seems to have a sure sense of when to use a light hand and when to push reality a bit more. While the characters may not learn what they intended to learn when they signed up for their course at Myrtle House, they do learn important things about the power of reinvention and change in this inviting and ultimately heartwarming novel.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

1 comment:

  1. Have you read the first Buffy book, The ex-Wives? It was published in 1993. Do you think it needs to be read first? I have both on my TBR.


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