I actually read this back in April – I’m just really behind on things.
Richard Novak has a big hole in his life, and in his LA garden. He sees no-one but his trainer, cleaner, interior designer and nutritionist – all of whom keep his body and life neatly controlled. After an inexplicable pain takes him to the ER, he stops on the way home to eat a (prohibited by the nutritionist) doughnut. Before he knows how it happened, he’s enlisting a movie star to helicopter-lift a teenager’s horse from the sinkhole in his garden and befriending a reclusive screenwriter.
This contemporary American novel is about reconnecting with people, and letting go. Novak’s pain makes no sense to him. Yes, he’s divorced, and estranged from his son. Yes, he’s trading stocks and shares from home. But he takes good care of himself. The problem is that he only cares for his physical self.
The doughnut – fatty, sugary, forbidden but so pleasurable – is an impulsive decision. The first one in around a decade. And once Novak starts he can’t stop. He starts being impulsive all the time, leading to a string of coincidences and synchronicity that leave him adrift but connected.
There’s a great use of housing as metaphor here. Novak lives in a beautiful but clinical modernist shell, being undermined by a huge hole. He’s having someone work on the interior of the house. After the mystery pain, he dismisses the interior designer and moves out. Instead he starts working on his own interior world, leaving the beautiful shell to crack.
I’m not so sure about the use of the Indian Anhil, who runs the doughnut house, as a trigger and guide for Novak’s emotional and spiritual awakening. It’s a bit too stereotypical, a bit too orientalist. Anhil is materialist, with his love of cars and the American Way, but this is presented as a child-like joy/wonder so it still sits uncomfortably for me.
Overall I enjoyed it, but it’ll go off to the charity bookshop.
I have to be ruthless now – have you any idea how many copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar we need to shelve?