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by Iain Broome

4*

Oh dear lord, what a sad, tragic tale of loss and grief and the achingly slow descent into madness. And how funny it is.

Gordon Kingdom is fifty-two. He’s left his dreary job to look after Georgina, his wife, who is bed-ridden and incapacitated after a stroke. Gordon hasn’t told the doctor about his wife, making the choice to ignore reality even as it’s hitting him in the face with a spade, because he and Georgina have a pre-prepared plan, a system for her care, he knows he can look after her better himself. He spends his days observing his neighbours, keeping notes on the details of their lives, keeping watch through the day and night. Then Angelica moves in across the road and Gordon’s obsession with his neighbours becomes Angelica-centric – and begins to deepen.

At times I was reminded of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time in Gordon’s language and thoughts, his almost autistic attention to detail and the obsessive way he now deals with every tiny facet of his always-small and now fast-shrinking life. There are echoes of The Roundabout Man and Harold Fry, too, but A is for Angelica lacks the sweetness that lifted those stories out of depression and into melancholy. Iain Broome uses dark humour in place of sentiment to diffuse the tension and it works well, it feels real. His style is sparse and spare, he sticks to the point, the plot never wanders unnecessarily. There’s a wealth of beautiful detail but it never gets in the way of the story:
‘She sits and crochets in the light from her television. Its colours always changing.’
‘There’s a puddle on the floor and a hole in the roof. The wood is rotting and coated with moss. Along the wall is a line of nails. Some have tools hanging from them, other just shapes of tools drawn round with a felt tip pen. There’s a hammer where a spanner should be.’

A is for Angelica is a surprisingly compelling page-turner; a fast read and terrifically told but terribly depressing. I couldn’t decide if it was darkly, comically, tragically funny or comically dark and tragic. I feel the latter is most apposite, though I did laugh – sometimes out-loud – there are some wonderfully comic moments, but I cried more.

The end was inevitable but no less moving for all that and I suspect the tragedy doesn’t end with the final page. And was it just me, or was Angelica a terrifically annoying person? I used to know someone just like her. I know if I were Gordon, I’d have made sure my doors were always locked and kept my distance.

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