For nearly two years, I’ve read a few curmudgeon novels, and they tend to follow similar patterns. They’re usually about a stubborn person who has a certain way of living. Then, they go on a journey (physically and emotionally) to discover more about themselves and that they grow to appreciate the people around them, thus resulting in them opening up. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick fits into this category like a bracelet on a wrist. Despite some flaws, it stands out in a couple of ways.
In The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, the 69-year-old title character has a strict routine, which involves getting up at 7:30am, wearing the same pair of pants and vest, watering his plant named Frederica, and gardening. On the one-year anniversary of Miriam’s – his wife – death, he discovers a charm bracelet that he’s never seen before. Each of the charms tells a different story of her life before she met him. To feed his curiosity, Arthur goes on a journey to various places like London, Paris, and even India to find out his wife’s past life, and in the process, he discovers hope, healing, and more about himself.
The other curmudgeon novels that I’ve read in the past were A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. At first, I wondered how The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper was going to stand out. Luckily, unlike the titular characters of those two books, Arthur is a parent who spent a lot of time traveling for work. This made him emotionally distant from his two now adult children and not being attentive to his wife’s needs. I like how the novel shows the consequences of behaving this way and how it affects his kids, especially his daughter Lucy.
Another thing that makes Arthur Pepper stand out from this bunch is the lighter tone. While both A Man Called Ove and Eleanor Oliphant can be quirky and fun at times, they are both balanced by a consistent dark tone. In the example of the former, Ove’s tragic backstory is revealed through stream-of-consciousness and how it resulted in him not trusting people. He also tries to end his own life multiple times. In the case of the latter, Eleanor struggles to come to terms with what happened during her childhood. Besides one scene where the main character tries to take his own life, Arthur Pepper is much peppier because he doesn’t have as much baggage as the other curmudgeons. This is good for readers who want something light.
Also, some of the characters that Arthur meets along the way are pretty colorful. These include his seemingly obnoxious, but caring neighbor Bernadette, the tiger loving Lord Graystock, and Mike – a caring homeless man. While these characters were memorable, they all seem to follow a pattern. Arthur meets or stumbles upon them, and they reveal their backstories before telling him how they know of the charm that he has questions about. After a while, it starts to get predictable, and don’t get me started on how inconceivable some of these situations are and how willing these people are to tell their stories. For example, when trying to get into Lord Graystock’s house, Arthur climbs over the fence and almost gets mauled by a tiger. If someone did that onto my property, I would be more likely to call the cops then tell them my backstory. The only time that someone was reluctant to tell Arthur their story about one of the charms was when Sonny Yardley initially refused to speak about Miriam, even when he came to the college that she worked at. She was this way because of a family tragedy that involved Miriam decades ago, and this was the only part that truly stuck with me because of this conflict.
I’m also convinced that Patrick was watching the Nudge, Nudge sketch from Monty Python when she was writing the scene, in which a random guy approaches Arthur in a café to discuss which girl he should marry. I couldn’t take this scene as seriously as the author wanted me to because I added “Nudge, nudge” every time the stranger talked. After the coyness went away and the man explained his dilemma, it began to feel realistic again. This was when I was pulled back into the story.
I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by James Langton. I understand that readers who listened to the audiobook loved his narrations, and I can see why. He has a refined English voice that definitely carries the story. Since the book mostly takes place in York, England, he does a good Yorkshire accent for the male characters with enough differences to make each character distinct. However, the flaw with his voicing is with most of the female characters. They all sound dangerously close to Eric Idle impersonating a Yorkshire grandmother. I tolerated this when Langton voiced older women like Bernadette, but not younger ones like Lucy, even when he delivers the right emotions for them. And I can’t quite put my finger on it, but his French accent for Sylvie was off. I really want to enjoy his performance, but how he voiced most of the women really threw me off.
All in all, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick is a light curmudgeon novel that stands out from the other titles in that category. Along with the tone, the main character is a parent, which adds a dimension to this subgenre. Yes, it does have its issues, but if readers are willing to suspend their disbelief, they’ll enjoy it more. I recommend this book to those who like this particular type of novel, those who enjoy reading about self-discovery, and those who simply want a light read. It’s available in regular and large print and as an audiobook; one can also find it on Hoopla and Overdrive/Libby.
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