This is a novel that describes advanced Parkinson’s in a family member. It is an “end of life” Parkinson’s book, not unlike Franzen’s The Corrections or Mistry’s Family Matters. As such, it can be a difficult read. Nick’s father is in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s. He is severely disabled, although his wife seems bizarrely grateful that “he hasn’t got the shaking kind” (there: myth number one about Parkinson’s debunked).
Nick and his wife, Laura – and, predictably, not all is completely tickety-boo in that relationship – decide to take Nick’s parents on holiday to Malta, where Dad (whose name is Jim) was stationed during World War II. The novel opens with the aeroplane journey, which sets the scene by introducing the awful difficulties of dealing with an aged parent’s disabilities and the frustrations experienced by each of the group. Well, all of them except for Dad. Dad finds it difficult to express himself coherently. Dad has, essentially, lost his voice as a character… or has he? Glimmers of personality emerge now and then, the more achingly precious for their rarity, and the ending rests upon a full understanding of a request from father to son.
Although the subject matter is potentially quite depressing – particularly for those of us with this kind of scenario to look forward to – it is leavened by a desperate, yet effective, sort of humour. It is very human. The subject matter is handled sensitively and, I think, realistically.
Perhaps elements of the other major plot elements (the search for Jim’s long-lost son, fathered during the war, and the increasingly desperate avoidance of baby-making activities on Nick’s part) are, however, a little less realistic. Or, at the very least, less likely. But it doesn’t matter. In fact, the detective activities and adventures that ensue serve to counterbalance the sadder and more everyday concerns of living with disability – and the question of what happens when your carer (Mum, or Lil, to give her her rightful name) can no longer, realistically cope.
The novel is very well written, in the sense that the prose flows beautifully, not drawing attention to itself but carrying the bittersweet tale along almost effortlessly. The slightly convoluted but highly entertaining sub-plots involving the long-lost son and Nick’s inability to talk to his wife about parenthood must have been a strong selling point when ITV decided to make a film from the book. I haven’t seen the film (it aired in 2006 and doesn’t seem to have been released on DVD), but it came loaded with UK film and TV celebrities (of the type that can act) and seems to have been well received.
Finally, a note about the associations of the title. This book has nothing in common with the similarly titled Fairport Convention album. Which is sort of a shame, because I like Fairport Convention. But that’s not a criticism; just an observation.