ThisBookWillSave_1

One of literature’s most delicious covers.

“He stands at the glass looking out.”

Los Angeles is not somewhere I have particular dreams of visiting, although, like all creatives, the idea has naturally crossed my mind. It is the home of film and fiction and fantasy – all writers, actors and artists should end up there eventually. A city where it’s always sunny and everyone’s beautiful and no one cares about money because everyone’s got more than they know what to do with. But, when it comes down to it, I honestly don’t think I could bear the relentless sun, beautiful people tend to be boring, and I’ve got enough money for my book and wine based needs.

Still, I picked up this book and stepped into LA anyway. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

Richard Novak lives an almost reclusive life, only speaking to his cleaner, nutritionist and personal trainer, and never really leaving his house unless necessary. He works in finance, does something with stocks and shares, and is doing very well for himself. And then, one night, he gets an excruciating pain throughout his body. Unable to be sure if it has just come on, or it’s always been there and he’s been ignoring it, he calls 911 and is taken to hospital. Doctors cannot find anything wrong with him and send him on his way.

But his life has changed in ways he could not have imagined. He stops at a donut shop on his way back ffrom the hospital and meets Adhil, a hardworking immigrant with a love of fine cars and well made pastry. Finally cracking out of his shell, he begins to expand his social circle. There’s Cynthia, a depressed housewife whom he meets when she’s crying in the produce aisle of a supermarket; Nic, his new next door neighbour who occasionally looks like he might be homeless; Dr Lusardi, the one physician who seems to actually care about Richard as a person; and Tad Ford, the competitive but down-to-earth movie star.

Then Richard speaks to his ex-wife and finds out that his son, Ben, is travelling across the country and wants to see him. Richard has barely seen him since he walked out on them over a decade ago and begins to wonder if he and his son can rekindle their relationship and get to know one another.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this book. Someone told me once that not much happens in it, but that’s sort of misleading. A lot does happen, but a lot of it is terribly mundane. It’s also very weird. Richard becomes a sort of “freak magnet” with numerous bizarre things beginning to happen to him, such as his house falling into a sinkhole, becoming involved in the rescue of a horse alongside a famous movie star and his helicopter, adopting a stray dog, going away on a silent retreat and investing in a donut shop. There are whole passages that seem to make no sense, that don’t further the story or seem to fit with anything else, but afterwards they are clear as more and more signs that Richard is returning to the real world, to society.

It’s a book with a lot of heart, effectively about a man having a mid-life crisis and sorting himself out again with the support of a colourful cast of characters around him. Everyone is a bit screwed up, but fundamentally, most (if not all) of the characters are good people with good intentions. The book has a good feeling of “you are not alone”, that there are things to do out there if you just go and look for them. Sitting at home and counting your money is fine if that’s how you want to live, but there’s a big world out there full of interesting people who all know things that you don’t, and sometimes life needs to be more of an adventure. Less time spent playing Candy Crush, more time spent visiting strangers in nursing homes, having dinner with the rich and famous, or just eating glazed raspberry donuts.

And who knows? Maybe this book will save your life.

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