Tag Archives: richard novak

May We Be Forgiven – life over the edge


I read the much-feted This Book Will Save Your Life some years ago now. It made quite an impression on me – its main character, Richard Novak, stayed with me, and I liked A.M. Homes’ style – she has a mastery of physiological insight and a talent for depicting the real, the raw, in a way that is truly satisfying to the reader. Harry, the main character in May We Be Forgiven, is in many ways reminiscent of Richard Novak – he has drifted through life lecturing on a dated subject, bumping along in a loveless husk of a marriage with the incredibly driven Claire. He harbours no deep desires, no design for life, until one day his monstrous brother’s downtrodden wife startles him with a kiss in in the kitchen, and what follows shatters life as everyone around them knows it.

I love it when I can’t guess where a book will go and that was definitely the case here. A.M. Homes likes to take those emotive moments in life that can be the catalyst for real change and run with them. What happens when a man with a famously dangerous temper, around whom people have always walked on eggshells, is forced to contemplate betrayal? And what happens when a man who has hitherto lived a sterile life with no responsibility is thrust into the middle of a traumatised, dysfunctional family and is tasked with leading them back to sanity?

Homes likes to explore the lives of people with material success who have lost contact with what really matters in life. There is a loneliness at the heart of her novels. Her characters learn to reconnect – life forces them to, and this awakening is fascinating and painful. Homes waits for her characters in the formative, difficult moments of their life. She prods and pokes them in the places where they are most vulnerable and most unsure of how to proceed. We wonder what we would do in Harry or Richard’s situation and we invest in their struggle.

However, there is theme in both of the Homes books I’ve read so far: her protagonists are swimming in money. Therefore, even at the sharp end of their lives, they are buffeted by affluence. Sometimes I think it’s easy to be heartwarming when your character has an endless supply of money with which to change people’s lives for the better when he realises what an empty life he’s been living. What would the story look like for someone who had messed things up with friends and family, but who didn’t have the resources to dedicate the whole of their remaining days to making things right? To a certain extent, Homes’ books are wealth porn, fantasies of a life without limits, without the ugliness of survival decisions. Is it cheating, what Homes is doing, I sometimes wonder? Is she feeding me, as adverts do, by selling me a dream where the only limits are in my mind? In part, yes, I think so. But then this is fiction – does it have to live relentlessly in the drudgery of everyday life? Or is it fine for Homes to strip away the mundane and leave us with an amazing story of personal growth in a life unfettered by logistics? She is not interested, seemingly, in digging into reality as much as she is in digging into the mind in its crisis moments, and watching where it goes and where it resurfaces on the other side of that madness.

Dark, funny and unputdownable, May We Be Forgiven is a triumph from the pen of A.M. Homes – a riveting study of life after being tipped over the edge.



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This Book Will Save Your Life – or at least stay with you

I read this book ages ago when I was working all summer at a concert hall in Brighton. It was my job to take tickets and for the hours when I wasn’t doing that (which was all the long, stretching hours of concerts, evangelical conferences and whatever else) it was my job to sit there and read. It was a hot summer and I was about to go off to uni and I read this book and I just loved it. My mum bought it because it was one of the first Richard and Judy book club titles but she never read it.

I liked the donuts on the cover. I remembered that I liked the feel of the writing too. The thing is, I read so many books that lots of them inevitably slip out of my mind afterwards. But I remembered Richard Novak.  He’s a man who wakes up in middle age to realise he’s been living life in a vacuum. He barely knows his son, his ex-wife is long gone. He hasn’t spoken to his parents for years. He has a nutritionist, a housekeeper but apart from that he is alone. When he finds himself suddenly in pain and is rushed to the hospital, they ask him who he’d like to call and he realises there’s no one on earth he wants to speak to. No one he still has that connection with. This is a book about him putting his life back together from nothing. Finally, Richard starts to interact, to say yes to human contact. The man in the donut shop. The woman crying in the produce aisle of the supermarket. His next door neighbour. The 911 operator. He starts spending his money, spending his time, following the flow of life, doing whatever comes next. He reconnects. He opens Pandora’s box.

There’s just something so feel-good about this book! I never re-read – there are so many new things out there but this book drew me back in and it was just as good the second time. It’s basically a story about a man having a mid-life crisis but there’s something so real at the heart of it. It treads the same ground as a Richard Curtis film, plugs you into an idea of humanity you can believe in. It won’t change your life, not in any kind of profound way, but there’s a warmth in it that will stay with you. From life in a vacuum to horses and helicopters and have-a-go-heroism, A.M. Holmes takes you on a winding and inexplicably wonderful adventure back to life.

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