The Last of the Bowmans by J Paul Henderson
|The Last of the Bowmans by J Paul Henderson|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: JY Saville|
|Summary: This is a well-paced black comedy about a normal family with odd problems. It has some memorable characters, some laugh out loud moments, and it draws you in with its gradual uncovering of family secrets. Widely recommended, but particularly to fans of dark northern humour such as Peter Tinniswood's tales of Carter Brandon and his Uncle Mort.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: January 2016|
|Publisher: No Exit Press|
|External links: Author's website|
When Greg Bowman's eighty-three year old father Lyle dies he leaves some unfinished business. It's up to Greg – black sheep of the Bowmans – to start learning the meaning of the word responsibility and sort his errant family out, preferably without them noticing what he's up to and assisted only by the gentle nudging of his father's ghost. Can he do it before he returns to his altogether more carefree life in America, and without causing any further trouble? As Greg begins to sort out his father's house and affairs, he untangles some complicated webs of deception and unearths a few family secrets, including some of his own.
J Paul Henderson's second novel introduces us to the Bowman family at the point that Lyle, seemingly the only normal, grounded member they've got, dies due to myopia (i.e. if only he'd been wearing his glasses he'd have been fine). His older son Billy has been stalking a woman with no feet, and Lyle's Wild West obsessed younger brother Frank wants to rob a bank. It's a quirky, warm-hearted novel with some surreal touches. The pacing of the gradual revelations worked well, and there were some great comedic set-pieces, for instance at Lyle's funeral and a flashback to Billy's wedding.
The characters in The Last of the Bowmans were delightful, though I wouldn't want to meet most of them. They were recognisable types without being stereotyped, uniquely differentiated enough to feel like real people who I came to care about. They're a dysfunctional family but mainly harmless, oddballs and eccentrics battling loneliness and (in Billy's case at least) attempting to fit in no matter what that costs them. Despite estrangements and bickering they do love each other in a gruff, detached, northern sort of a way.
The novel is set in an unnamed northern industrial city that bears a striking resemblance to Bradford (unsurprising as that is where the author originates from). One strand of the novel is about the change in his home town that Greg sees after seven years in America, the decay of the city centre and the change in character of the suburb his family live in. Anyone who's lived through the collapse of local industry throwing its trained workers on the scrapheap will feel a chime of recognition here. If you haven't, don't let that put you off as it's largely background, and this book should have a wide appeal. Though at one point Greg is about to have a bath and misses America because of its ubiquitous showers, which did make me wonder if there'd be a whole load of readers thinking surely everyone has a shower these days.
There's a rich vein of surreal black comedy throughout The Last of the Bowmans, with absurd little details that made everything (even the appearance of Lyle's ghost in a ballgown) seem so natural as it was unfolding. Greg's curmudgeonly Uncle Frank in particular made me think of the superb Carter Brandon stories by Peter Tinniswood.
The logical next step after reading The Last of the Bowmans is Last Bus to Coffeeville by J Paul Henderson which has gone on my To Read list. However, if you're looking for a different author and don't mind your dark surreal humour having a 1970s backdrop, try The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last of the Bowmans by J Paul Henderson at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last of the Bowmans by J Paul Henderson at Amazon.com.
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