Sunday 22 October 2017

You'd give this hotel five stars

You may not know Deborah Moggach's name but chances are you've seen her work. The British novelist, who has just published her 17th novel, has been lauded for her screen-writing credits, including a BAFTA-nominated adaptation of Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and a version of Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate.

Moggach is certainly able to provide big-screen inspiration herself though. Her book, These Foolish Things, was turned into a hit film in 2011 starring several grandees of British cinema including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Bill Nighy.

That movie, known as The Last Exotic Marigold Hotel to cinema-goers, was a kind of Four Weddings and a Funeral for the Saga generation.

A group of English retirees decamped to a shabby hotel in Jaipur run by wannabe entrepren-eur where they encounter all manner of adventure before finding their very own happy ever afters.

It wasn't the first time Moggach had written about the Indian subcontinent. She lived in Pakistan for two years in the mid-1970s and she began her writing career in the country, penning newspaper articles and her first novel, You Must Be Sisters, a coming-of-age autobiographical tale.

Since then, she has written several amusing tales, including The Ex-Wives, a comedy about a boozy actor named Russell 'Buffy' Buffery and his chaotic marital life and the Karachi-set Hot Water Man.

Moggach's latest novel, Heartbreak Hotel, may not have such an exotic locale, but like These Foolish Things, it is set in a hostelry and it's all about what happens when one of her old characters, Buffy, inherits a B&B in rural Wales.

Buffy had loved his London life, but as he grew older the capital's charm had begun to wane on him. When he learns that his dear old friend (and old flame) Bridie has bequeathed him her hideaway, he becomes intrigued with the notion of a new start. His multi-stranded family aren't quite so sure; however, their doubts convince him it's the right time to move on.

Buffy's new abode isn't exactly luxurious but he comes up with a brilliant idea to fill the rooms. He begins to run 'Courses for Divorces' thereby attracting a clientele made up of casualties of the relationship merry-go-round.

His plan is to teach the newly separated skill such as gardening, cookery and car maintenance, and he'll benefit too as his guests will be doing his chores for free.

Buffy soon finds himself with a circle of new friends including Harold, whose wife left him for a younger woman; Amy who was left bereft when her needy boyfriend found himself a new lover; and Andy whose girl-friend wants too much from him.

They may have thought their romantic lives were over, but Buffy's rural idyll works a strange kind of magic on them and soon their lives are irreversibly transformed. But is it too late for Buffy, a man who has loved not yet wisely but too well?

Moggach's 17th tale will delight her legion of fans, who are sure to enjoy the screen adaptation she's currently writing for the BBC. Wise, warm and funny; there are obvious similarities between Heartbreak Hotel and These Foolish Things.

But Buffy's tale about the foibles of the human condition and how it's never too late to yearn for love and companionship has a charm all of its own. Settle down and enjoy.

Irish Independent

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