Book review: Heartbreak Hotel, By Deborah Moggach

A Welsh route to respite from the marital battlefields
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The Independent Culture

In recent years, the novelist and scriptwriter Deborah Moggach has turned her attention to matters geriatric. Her 2004 novel These Foolish Things, later filmed as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, followed the fortunes of a group of retirees setting up shop in a guest-house in India. Here the conceit is much the same, though the location has shifted from Jaipur to a soggy corner of Wales.

The star of this provincial drama is retired actor Russell "Buffy" Buffery. Life looks up for this veteran of three marriages and father to six grown-up children when he inherits Myrtle House, a shabby B&B in the Welsh Borders. It's while he's contemplating his personal history that a money-making wheeze occurs: he'll turn the hotel into a base for residential courses for the newly single, divorced and bereaved.

Buffy's "Courses for Divorces" prove an immediate hit, and soon refugees from the "marital battlefields" are dashing up the M5 for classes in gardening and car maintenance. Among the first batch of walking wounded are Monica, an older woman who has wasted her best years on an unavailable married man; Harold, a writer whose wife has left him for a Japanese girl as "smooth as a seal"; and Rosemary " a big-boned woman from Aldershot" whose husband has decamped with the waitress at his golf club.

The narrative formula might feel familiar, but this doesn't diminish the waspish pleasures of this acutely observed and heartfelt farce. As Buffy adopts the role of unofficial therapist, we eavesdrop on tales of toxic blind dates, late-life loneliness, and the demanding business of elderly romance – "the whole love thing was too emotionally draining; even internet dates were little cot deaths."

With the reader's enjoyment placed centre-stage, the novel's many romantic subplots contrive to dovetail and even coo. Frank about ageing, Moggach has little truck with the tired cliché that 70 is the new 40.

Instead her novel is suffused with the heartening notion that it's never too late to share a bed, fix a car or even come out of the closet.