The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper - Phaedra Patrick
I started this book with the expectation of it being a comfy read. You know, an older person going on an adventure and all? So I was baffled to find myself bawling my eyes out after just 5-10 pages. I mean, I never cry while reading. Heck, I recently even kind of boasted on here about not ever crying while reading, and then THIS happens. It was like the end scene from the fucking Notebook all over again…

(I didn’t see that one coming either and think I cried for two hours straight while being totally embarrassed about it)

The book starts off with Arthur trying to make it through the day of the one-year anniversary of his beloved wife’s death. The grief is still fresh, the loneliness so palpable. I’ve seen it way too often. The situation where a spouse dies after having been together for so many years. Of course, (unless you’re the main characters of The Notebook) these kinds of situations are inevitable; you usually don’t die together, so there’s always the one person who’s left behind. I’ve never been able to understand how these particular people cope with it, but somehow they do because they have to live on. Unless they decide not to, of course.

I recently read an article in which a healthy woman got euthanised together with her terminally ill husband because she didn’t want to stay behind: her life ended with her husband’s last breath. After doing some more research on this topic, I also found out that you can request a double euthanasia in Belgium even if you’re both still relatively healthy, but just don’t want to deteriorate together or be left alone when the significant other dies before you. Then there are the so-called suicide pacts in which couples want to be totally in control of their own deaths. I also came across elderly couples who didn’t die together on the same day, but still relatively close to each other. My grandparents both died within six months while my grandmother really wasn’t that old or that ill. Having a broken heart might not be a metaphorical term after all.

So yes, all of this poured over me during those first pages of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. While it wasn’t even that depressing; there was humour in those pages as well. But still, it got to me.

Anyhow, let’s move on to the first note I made:


Arthur and Miriam have two children: Dan, who lives in Australia with his wife and kids, and Lucy, who doesn’t live all too far away from her parents in York. They were a loving family, there weren’t any fights or whatnot, and yet still, neither Dan nor Lucy attended their mother’s funeral…can I get a WTF from you as well for that? Later in the book, the exact circumstances and reasons are explained to us, but even though there are some good points there, they aren’t good enough for me to not go to your own mother’s fucking funeral.

The second note:

“What a dick!“

This was a reference to Lucy’s husband, who might as well have been called Dick anyhow.
A tiny spoiler here, but I promise it won’t ruin the story for you. This is what ‘Dick’ said to Lucy after she just had a miscarriage and her mother passed away:

“There’s been too much sadness. I want to be happy. I want you to be happy. But we can’t be with all the history between us. We need to be apart so we don’t dwell on it. I have to go.“

Red Foreman

I made the third note at the end of the book, so let’s look at the story and characters first:

Arthur finds a golden charm bracelet in an old shoe of his wife. There are eight charms attached to it: a tiger, a paint palette, a heart, an elephant, a thimble, a flower, a book and a ring. Because Arthur has never seen this bracelet before, he wonders where it came from and studies it more thoroughly. When he finds an Indian phone number and decided to call it, his quest on finding out the meanings of all eight charms starts. Apparently, Miriam lead quite the vigorous life before she met Arthur, yet never told him anything about it.

It’s lovely to see Arthur coming out of his shell of mourning and hopping from one adventure to the next with the help of Bernadette and her 18-year-old emo son Nathan. Bernadette is a cheerful robust lady who has lost her own husband recently and is now trying to help other ‘lost causes’ by visiting them, baking pies and motivating them into leaving the house. A lovely woman, really.

We get to learn more about Lucy (and why the hell she didn’t attend her mother’s funeral) and see her growing closer to her dad again. And that’s what this novel is mainly about: connectedness, love, and family.

This is great and all, and heck, it made me cry, but when you’re expecting adventures of an old man, you want action (or at least, I do). Somewhere around 60% of the book, the pace started to drag a little, and my reading slowed down considerably. Emotional bladeebla and whatnot, while I just wanted to find out about the next charm already!

Which is what note 3 is about:


This refers to an overly dramatic scene which could’ve come straight out of a sappy sentimental movie. Arthus is screaming “Miriam!” at the sea. Maybe I’m a cold-hearted biyatch and all, but pfffffff.

Now, with all the crying and emotional stuff, this still isn’t a depressing book. In fact, I also laughed out loud several times.

“A tube of toothpaste was trodden into the mud. In the distance, a herd of goats stared at him. One of them seemed to be munching on a mustard piece of fabric. His bloody sweater-vest. Just then an electronic blast of “Greensleeves” rang out."

Seeing as this review is already WAY too long, I’ll just hop on to the rating part.
It was pretty hard to give it a proper rating because I obviously did enjoy the book, and it had an impact on me as well. Yet the dragging parts and the ending weren’t very satisfying to me. The ending isn’t horrible or anything, but it seemed to be an extension of the dragging parts. I just hoped it would’ve been a bit more adventurous. Finding out the stories behind the first couple of charms was one big adventure and then the last couple of charms just sort of fell out of the sky and had less of an impressive story behind it. I did like the last couple of pages again, though!

This could’ve been a fantastic 5-starred book, but because it fell a bit short to me, I’m giving it 3.5 brownies and a firm recommendation if any of the above sounds interesting to you (and you’re over 12 years old).