These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach

Old flames burn in an Indian summer
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The Independent Culture

If you're on the look-out for a pacy and well-plotted story with a range of vivid characters, based on the issues you'll be reading about in your newspaper - one that will delight your fiftysomething world-view by offering epigrammatic quips on your favourite irritants (being called a "customer" on the train, hearing spokespersons categorise woodland as "leisure facility", with proposals for "glade-type" improvements) - this is the book for you. Deborah Moggach, who has a nose for the themed novel, whether it's on incest or child custody, has now spiritedly taken on the globalisation of long-term care.

Dunroamin is a residential "hotel" for the elderly in Bangalore. Home to the Indian cyber-industry, Bangalore not only epitomises the newly globalised world but, thanks to the sun, the cheap labour, the cultural cringe and the statues of Queen Victoria, it makes exported British oldies feel more at home than they do in today's UK, with its multiethnic urban muggers, its soaring costs and dwindling corner shops. Intended as the first of many such far-flung establishments, Dunroamin is the brainchild of Ravi, a fastidious, overworked Indian doctor in a south London hospital, and his entrepreneurial cousin Sonny. It is spurred into being by Ravi's desperation at the presence, in his once quiet Dulwich house, of his odious father-in-law, Norman Purse, an apparently indestructible widower who has spent his life oppressing his family and having sex with prostitutes in foreign parts.

In the first third of the book, Moggach gathers her intriguing cast, who will soon be assembled, Cluedo-like, in Dunroamin. Widowed Evelyn has allowed her children to dump her in the doomed "Leaside" and sell off her family home. Her own happy marriage has not been replicated in the lives of her two children, whose stories within this story are beautifully told. Feeble Christopher has left her with an incomprehensible computer, so that she can e-mail her brat-like NY grandchildren, while Theresa unloads psycho-babble on Evelyn, for whom it might as well be Serbo-Croat.

Capable, highbrow Dorothy, a retired BBC producer, is now imprisoned by arthritis in her Marylebone flat. The Ainslies are a hearty pair of superannuated globe-trotters, destined to be Dunroamin's only married couple, while Muriel is old-style Peckham working class. She plants union flags in her window box, lies 48 hours on a hospital trolley rather than be examined by "darkies", and idolises her son Keith, who has made it big in shady dealing. It is his Eastern odyssey that covers for Muriel's somewhat unlikely presence in Bangalore.

Dunroamin makes a threadbare Forest of Arden serving "cream-of-something soup", in which the eyes of its elderly residents are opened upon new truths. This is a thoughtful and absorbing book, marred briefly by a sitcom start in which Norman's limping phallic one-liners combine with Sonny's "tip-top" and "yaar-man" vocab to leave one feeling as if guided through Goodness Gracious Me by the late Benny Hill. But this mode is soon abandoned as the story grows beyond it.

Barbara Trapido's novel 'Frankie & Stankie' is published by Bloomsbury

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