The Old Romantic
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A long-estranged family discovers that blood is thicker than water in this domestic comedy.
It's been a couple of decades since Nick cast off his impossible, contentious, embarrassingly working-class parents: gruff, stingy, explosive Ken and Pearl, who seemed to revert to a primal state of nature after a divorce that both of them managed to blame on Nick. Enjoying the life of the country gentleman that he's made for himself with impeccably turned-out Astrid and her teenage daughter, Laura, Nick has kept only the slenderest family connection to his brother, Dave, who's stuck with the role of ambassador in a family that's long settled into cold war. But then Nick's father decides that the year of his death has arrived, kicking off an ill-conceived quest to reunite his family…
Louise Dean is the author of three previous novels: Becoming Strangers, which was awarded the Betty Trask Prize in 2004 and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award, This Human Season, and The Idea of Love. She lives in Kent, England with her three children.
- Ken earns the title of “old romantic” because he’s enthralled with ideals about the way life, particularly relationships, should work. How does this play out in his love life, in family life, and in the way he interacts with the world? Does the conflict prove more constructive or destructive to his overall happiness?
- Were there parts of the novel that made you squirm? Which moments and conflicts provoked the strongest reaction while you were reading? Which have stayed with you?
- How do class issues play a role in the narrative and in the characters’ lives? Compare Nick and Dave’s struggle with class and give examples of how their respective social standings dictate their daily interactions-particularly with their family.
- During his reunion with Nick, Ken insists that “family is always with you.” How does this statement bear out by the end of the novel? Is it proven or disproven?
- The drive to Wales provides entry into the characters’ inner monologues and gives readers a taste of their volatile family life. What does this trip represent for each person in the car? Does it call to mind family vacations that you’ve had?
- Reconciliation is a recurring theme in the novel. What forms does it take and how do the various characters achieve (or fail to achieve) it?
- To what extent did this story make you reconsider your own relatives and family dynamics? Do you see any members of your family in the Goodyews?
- Many works of contemporary literature showcase dysfunctional families. Which other novels does The Old Romantic call to mind?
- With which character did you most identify? Who earned the most sympathy?
- Where do you think the members of the family will find themselves in 10 years? 20? How might these particular legacies of divorce, anger, and infidelity play out in the next generation?
- How does death drive the story? What does mortality mean to various characters in the novel? Is there a pronounced difference in the way the male and female characters address it?