I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for this gentle comedy about two ageing chaps taking them from the Brexit referendum through to the end of the first Covid lockdown.
Bill and Pete have been best friends for 55 years, they’re now in their mid-sixties, and retired. Estorick first wrote about them in a previous book which I’ve not read, About Time, set when they were both 60 and still attached. Now they’re both single again. Bill’s wife Carol died of cancer a few years ago, and Pete, who’d married at 60, is now separated from his wife and young stepson.
Bill was given to temporary enthusiams and fads; Pete, a printmaker by training and vocation, steadier in his pursuits, though in their private lives the opposite was true: Bill, until his mid-life crisis, a devoted husband and father; Pete, before his marriage, a liner as promiscuous in his affections as he was protective of his heart. (…)
At the time of the Brexit Referendum in June 2016, both Pete and Bill were single and living alone, though they met for lunch every Tuesday at the Fox & Grapes by Wimbledon Common.
Bill and Pete often have contrary opinions, Bill voted ‘Leave’, Pete ‘Remain’, but they don’t let that get in the way of their friendship. As the novel begins, Bill’s son Ivan boomerangs back into the empty family home, with a tattooed girlfriend in tow. Bill isn’t sure he’s happy with this, especially as Melanie is vegan. But it gives him another thing to moan about to Pete.
However, life begins to change for Bill when he meets a woman at the golf club. It’s been four years since Carol died, and Bill is totally smitten. Naturally he seeks advice from Pete.
‘She says she likes theatre,’ Bill told Pete.
‘That doesn’t make her a bad person.’
‘Art galleries, too.’
‘Not such a good sign.’
‘Oh, you know. Kulchur…’ Pete grinned.
‘She also plays bridge. To county standard, I’m told.’
Pete shrugged, uncertain if this was a good or bad sign.
‘Worst of all, she has a much lower handicap than me.’
‘Then it’s off before it’s even begun?’
Naturally Ivan doesn’t approve!
We are also introduced to Guy, an artist who had been Bill’s friend at university, and then Pete became his agent. Bill, Pete and Guy had gone to France after their first year at uni, and Guy fell in love with the country and never came back, buying a ramshackle chateau where he paints, living with his Chinese wife and young son Luke, whom he loves dearly. Guy is regarded as a total eccentric by the locals.
Pete is a wonderful character, full of warmth and he is non-judgemental compared with the more forthright Bill. Pete is happy to be Bill’s audience for his strong opinions, agreeing to disagree. I couldn’t see what Helen saw in Bill to be honest, but I was glad he found another chance at happiness. Guy, who comes in and out of the narrative sounds as if he was fun. At the beginning of the novel, all three of the chaps are floundering in one way or another. These momentous events of recent years seem to free them up, by taking their minds off themselves, they can breath and live again – at least until shut up with their new loves (yes, later Pete has a new, well new-old relationship too) due to coronavirus.
The novel is probably around three-quarters dialogue, Estorick sets up each conversation and then lets it go. His style of writing is understated, but you can picture the scene all the time. His comedy is definitely gentle; it’s not laugh out loud, but Love Under Lockdown will raise a smile. A very enjoyable read.
I’d not come across Michael Estorick before, but aside from his writing he is Chairman of the Trustees of the Estorick Collection, a museum devoted to modern Italian Art in Canonbury, London from the collection of Eric and Salome Estorick. Adding that to my list of places to visit with my Art Fund card one day.
Source: Review copy – thank you! Michael Estorick, Love Under Lockdown (Arcadia Books, Aug 2021) hardback, 172 pages.
BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)