Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 20, 2008

These Foolish Things (2004), by Deborah Moggach

foolish_thingsIt’s always a delight to read anything by Deborah Moggach, and so I was pleased to discover this amongst the dross at my local library (which is going through another phase of dumbing down,  resulting in a surfeit of lumpen books with large gold lettering on the covers *sigh*).

As always, Moggach is wickedly droll but poignant, and as in previous books, she explores alternative configurations for what a family might be.   In this one she begins with the dilemma that many of us will inevitably face – how to accommodate a difficult parent needing care within the congenial but somewhat selfish lives couples feel they deserve in their middle age.   Ravi and Pauline are torn between wanting to do the right thing by Norman, Pauline’s dreadful old father, and wanting their comfortable life …

Since this is set in post Thatcher Britain, Norman is not the only elderly person needing residential care in a society that doesn’t provide it.  Ravi’s solution is to go into business with an Indian friend, Sunny, outsourcing a home for the unwanted elderly to sunny Bangalore.  There the residents live in what was, in the days of the British Raj, an old boarding school, tended by a chiropodist masquerading as a nurse, a doctor who specialises in treating the clap, a temperamental cook and the hen-pecked Sunny.  

All the residents are unwanted at home in Britain, but in Bangalore they find themselves forming a kind of family.  India is not romanticised – there are beggars and exploited workers alongside the exotic markets, modern hotels, call centres and temples – but it works a kind of magic that enables these sad and lonely people to forge new lives for themselves.  It is a romantic comedy in the sense that there’s a happy ending and a marriage, but Moggach is merciless in depicting the way western society alienates and abandons its elderly.  Evelyn, most memorably, shows us how dispiriting old age can be, but I also felt intense pity for Jean, deluded about both her marriage and her son.  There are many transformations but the most pleasing is the generous gift of a sari to Pauline, just at the moment when she needs it.

This book is apparently to be made into a film – which I hope will be released here in Australia too!


  1. Thanks Lisa
    I have this on my tbr and will move it closer to the top on the strength of your great review. I have always enjoyed Moggach and I havent been disappointed so far.


  2. I have a few on my shelves if you would like to borrow any: Tulip Fever; Seesaw; Final Demand; Driving in the Dark and Close Relations.
    I read on a website that she comes of a family of four writers – do you know who the others are?


  3. Yes both parents were writers , her father Richard Hough was a serious naval historian and biographer and her mother Charlotte wrote and illustrated childrens books. I have all those titles you mention on and her latest novel ‘In the Dark’ on my tbr also.
    She is a prolific writer with 16 novels and 2 collections of short stories. We have a few to catch up on =)


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