I love 20th-century culture – especially novels. My latest discovery is A Rather English Marriage, by Angela Lambert (1940-2007), an English writer whose clever, lively novels unfold with precision and simplicity.
Old age and obligatory friendship are her themes here, as she depicts an awkward friendship between two old men, Roy, a retired milkman, and Reggie Conynhame-Jervis, a former RAF pilot, whose wives die on the same day at the same hospital. At the prompting of the vicar and a social worker, the men become roommates. Depressed Roy moves in with Reggie, a blustering, pompous, well-to-do man who likes to be addressed as Squadron Leader and tell rambling stories about his glory days during World War II.
These aged roommates are have vastly different attitudes toward marriage. Roy grieves incessantly for his wife, who was also his best friend. Reggie, who barely noticed his wife, and did not have sex with her for decades, does not miss her at all, though he is miffed to discover that she had made a fortune on the stock exchange without telling him.
And then there is the lack of boundaries regarding Reggie’s treatment of Roy. Reggie regards Roy as an unpaid servant, but Roy continues to do the housework to keep busy. One night he agrees to serve dinner to Reggie and his date, a relatively young woman in her fifties (20 years younger than Reggie). Roy is angry when Reggie and his Liz call him Southgate, as if he is the butler.
The characters of these two men of different classes illustrate their antithetical principles and philosophies. Roy is grounded in duty to his family, preoccupied with a ne’er-do well-son who is in prison for bigamy, and with his rowdy grandchildren, whose listless mother is not raising them well. For the sake of his grandchildren, Roy works to maintain the relationship. On the other hand, the boastful Reggie has no friends except those he pays for, like the pricey prostitute he visits in London, and Liz, a chic shop owner who goes out with him in case she goes broke and needs to marry money.
And yet when circumstances change, the two old men do become friends. It is, after all, when disaster happens that one finds out who one’s real friends are.
This book was a delight to read. It is out-of-print, but is available as an e-book. Does anyone recommend any other books by Lambert?