Review: These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach

Helen Falconer enjoys These Foolish Things, Deborah Moggach's witty and satisfying story about retirement

Doctor Ravi Kapoor is tearing his hair out. His ghastly, bottom-pinching father-in-law, Norman, has been thrown out of yet another nursing home and is now cluttering up Ravi's house in Dulwich with fag ends and porn magazines. How can Ravi rid himself of this farting incubus? The good doctor is not alone in his suffering. A generation of fortysomethings is saddled with decrepit parents, each one a shuffling guilt-trip. Costly, clinging, embarrassingly old-fashioned - the old can't die soon enough these days.

Ravi's wheeler-dealer cousin Sonny has a brainwave: what country respects its aged rather than treating them like dirt? India! What country has a peculiar empathy for British charm and 50s decor? India! What country is cheap enough not to drain an inheritance which would otherwise enrich an old person's deserving children? India!

The bravest of Britain's most unwanted are soon being bundled on to eastbound planes. At the front of the queue is Norman, followed by Evelyn, who "doesn't want to be a burden", Jean and her despairing husband, Douglas. New friends and new philosophies await them, not to mention a dramatic change of climate.

Moggach is too fond of colour and comedy for social realism, but neither does she dabble in faux spirituality, and so the India of These Foolish Things is not the country that Ravi accuses his wife of falsely romanticising - "You British go there - oh the poverty, oh the sunsets! ... You all come back with your bazaar bargains, mouthing a lot of mystic tosh."

Nobody could accuse Moggach of mystic tosh. The India she invokes is messy, modern, entrepreneurial; a land of sharp suits and legless beggars, a turbulent melting pot where to be old or even a trifle deaf is not considered to be remotely troublesome, let alone a crime punishable by permanent isolation. Some of the staff are considerably more aged and decrepit than the residents.

Norman, dirty old fossil that he is, has a rather unfortunate fate in store, but the more courageous of our travellers will be handsomely rewarded. They, who imagined their lives were over, will be reborn. The disrespected will have their pride restored, the abandoned will be rescued, the unloved will find true love at last. And Evelyn's New Age daughter will discover that a good shag beats hugging a guru any day.

Moggach, a prolific novelist, makes it her priority to deliver thoughtful, satisfying stories leavened with wit and humanity, peopled by ordinary characters and packaged in excellent unpretentious prose. One often hears the term "a writer's writer". Moggach is one of that much more welcome breed - "a reader's writer".

· Helen Falconer's Sky High is published by Faber.


Helen Falconer

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The Constant Gardener: the postscript

John Mullan analyses The Constant Gardener by John le Carré. Week three: the postscript

John Mullan

28, Feb, 2004 @1:38 AM

Review: Balthasar's Odyssey by Amin Maalouf

Ian Sansom embarks on a fabulous journey into the Levantine past with Amin Maalouf's Balthasar's Odyssey

Ian Sansom

12, Oct, 2002 @1:45 PM

Article image
Review: A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Review: A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
Hanif has great fun setting ideals against reality and east alongside west, writes James Stuart

James Smart

05, Jun, 2009 @11:01 PM

Article image
Interview: Emanuel Litvinoff

Emanuel Litvinoff died on Saturday 24 September 2011, aged 96. This profile, originally published in 2008, gives a sense of his remarkable life and career

Interview by Paul Laity

08, Aug, 2008 @11:01 PM

Article image
Review: The Virgin of Flames by Chris Abani

Chris Abani's The Virgin of Flames has made something new of the urban novel, says Jane Smiley.

Jane Smiley

21, Apr, 2007 @10:57 PM

Article image
Review: London and the South East by David Szalay

Review: London and the South East by David Szalay
Szalay's satire is sharp, but may raise blood pressure to unadvisable levels, says Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

01, May, 2009 @11:01 PM

Interview: Richard Price

Richard Price: Real estate is violence. A neighbourhood has been a certain way and then somebody makes a cappuccino

Interview by Nicholas Wroe

15, Aug, 2008 @11:01 PM

That's all, folks

Big movies now cost $100m and that figure is going up. How can the studios afford it? They can't. Film-maker John Boorman on an industry facing meltdown

John Boorman

06, Sep, 2003 @12:11 AM

Article image
Mick Herron on Newcastle: ‘The only north-east writer I knew was Catherine Cookson’
The thriller author on living above his father’s shop and playing in the back lanes of the city

Mick Herron

03, Aug, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
‘Drowned in a sea of salt’ Blake Morrison on the literature of the east coast
Writers from Crabbe to Sebald have been drawn to the fragile beauty of the east coast of Britain – and have immortalised it in words, writes Blake Morrison

Blake Morrison

31, Jan, 2015 @8:30 AM