“The Old Romantic” by Louise Dean

“The Old Romantic” by Louise Dean (2011) –  338 pages

    “You never imagine your husband will get a thing for an embalmer and an outsize one at that – that’s one thing you don’t imagine.”

 As you can tell from the above quote, “The Old Romantic” is darkly comic in attitude.  It is the story of the Goodyew family which consists of grandpa Ken, his girlfriend June, his son Nick who has a girl friend named Astrid, his other son Dave, and Ken’s ex-wife Pearl.

 Reading  “The Old Romantic” is a wicked joy.  There may be one or two novels this year as good as “The Old Romantic”, but I can’t imagine one that will be better. Here is a chance for the Booker to honor Louise Dean while she is at her best.

 Every sentence of “The Old Romantic” expresses an attitude, and that attitude is sustained for the entire novel,   I am going to quote several lines from this novel, because I admire the way Louise Dean writes, and the more I quote, the more likely you will read and enjoy this novel.  At the beginning the Goodyew family individuals, especially grandpa Ken, are portrayed as outlandish and ridiculous. As the novel progresses, you begin to see the strong resemblance between the members of Ken’s family and the members of your own family.  Could it be that when you look at the individuals in your own family with open eyes, they are quite ridiculous too?  As it turns out, these Goodyews have their surprising winning sides too.          

    ’I can see now that I could be accused of being rather callow.’ He looked at her. “Do you know what I mean?’

    ‘Yes she said through gritted teeth. I know what fucking callow means. I wish you would stop using your words like you get a triple-letter score every time.’

 Did I mention that Louise Dean writes about the meanest and sharpest dialogue of anyone around?   Any writer would give their first born to have her ear for dialogue. 

 The following sentence in the novel struck me as brilliant, but I’m not sure how you will react to it.

    “She dispensed with the cleaning lady and thereby scuppered that woman’s plan for a breast enlargement.”

 For me, that sentence says a lot about our times.  Also Louise Dean should get the award for best use of the word ‘scuppered’ in a work of fiction along with the many other prizes she should receive for “The Old Romantic”.

 It’s always a pleasure to discover a major talent.  Louise Dean is one of those writers that someone will read many years from now, and will wonder why she didn’t get even more recognition while she was still writing.  She is tremendously talented, and the writing in “The Old Romantic” is so sparkling, I would guess she had as much fun writing this book as we have reading it.  “The Old Romantic” is a novel you read with a perpetual grin.

7 responses to this post.

  1. It looks like the US cover is much nicer than the UK cover, which makes the book look like chic-lit.

    Have you read anything else by Dean? I read This Human Season last year, about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and it was an absolute stand-out.


  2. Hi Kimbofo,
    I believe I did read another book by Louise Dean. I suspect it was “The Human Season”, but I don’t remember much about it. “The Old Romantic” is definitely another stand-out and at this point is my favorite for the Booker.

    I suppose the pastel colors on the English cover make it look like Chick-Lit, but I kind of like the city buildings. “The Old Romantic” is definitely NOT Chick-Lit.


  3. This was one of my favourite reads of last year and I praised it highly as you have. Alas, sales were apparently not fantastic. I thought that this one was Booker material. It reminded me of Graham Swift. What I loved about it was the authentic locations – I lived in Hastings at one point of my life and you can track the story on a map or Google Earth) in perfect detail.


    • Hi Tom C.,
      I did read your excellent review; it actually came up as the 4th entry when I googled ‘The Old Romantic Louise Dean review’. I also read a Guardian review that didn’t like it very much. I’m not familiar with the territory, but I thought the book was great anyhow. This is a novel I expect people will still be enjoying fifty years from now.


  4. This has been sitting on my shelf for a while, since Christmas in fact. I must make time to read it after reading those quotes


  5. Hi Jessica,
    “The Old Romantic” has a ton of great lines. Louise Dean is a very clever writer. I didn’t realize the book had already come out last year.


  6. […] appearance at the top of Tony’s Book World’s 2011 best list (his review is here). Tony’s previous year-end lists have put me on to some genuine finds (he introduced me to […]


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