Book review: A New Map of Love by Abi Oliver
When middle-aged antiques dealer George Baxter loses his wife of 26 years, his comfortable, if predictable, life is suddenly torn apart.
But what he hadn’t expected was to experience a sudden ‘bolt of elation’ coursing through his 57-year-old body; an overwhelming desire to live that is gripping him ‘like a primitive hunger.’
Overcome with guilt that he still has ‘the life force’ so powerfully within him, George turns to work as a comfort… but can things ever really be the same again?
Following in the grand tradition of novels like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Abi Oliver’s warm, wise and wonderfully whimsical debut novel is a moving and tender celebration of life, death, hope and new horizons.
Set in a chocolate-box Oxfordshire village in the 1960s and featuring an all-star cast of eclectic and eccentric English characters, this enchanting slice of nostalgia stars the unforgettable George Baxter, a beguiling lost soul embarking on his last chance of life and love.
When George’s wife Win dies, he is haunted not just by her passing but by ‘a whole past that might have been different.’ Their childless marriage had been familiar and safe, and now he realises with a shock that Win scarcely seemed to have touched him… and certainly not ‘deep down.’
Feeling guilty that he is already thinking about a world in which ‘he could share a bed with a lovely woman who would fizz and leap and undulate,’ he throws himself into his antiques business with his loyal dog Monty by his side.
His shop is at the heart of the picturesque village of Greenbury and an assortment of visitors pass through the doors, each person in search of their own little piece of history.
When George meets local solicitor’s widow Sylvia Newsome, ‘a most remarkable bombshell of a woman,’ he imagines a different kind of future. But life has more revelations in store and over the course of an English summer, George uncovers some unexpected mysteries from his past… discoveries which could well shape his tomorrows.
A New Map of Love is a poignant, funny and ultimately uplifting story, packed with acute observations of human nature, how we cope with loss, and our innate desire to love and be loved. Oliver has a sharp eye for comedy, drama and the everyday fears, desires and dilemmas that beset us all.
Haunted by his past and his passionless marriage, George’s journey from empty decades of safe familiarity to an unpredictable but exciting tomorrow is beautifully imagined, and paved with the author’s own wisdom and experience.
A treat for all true romantics…
(Macmillan, hardback, £12.99)