I discovered Anne Tyler quite by accident. About fifteen years ago, when Waterstones had just introduced their “3 for 2 on selected titles” offer, I had two books selected and was looking for a third. I read the back cover of A Patchwork Planet and thought “oh that sounds good”. I’ve never looked back. Tyler quickly became one of a small list of authors whose new books are waited for impatiently and ALWAYS read. I’ve been looking forward to reading this for months.
Aaron Woolcott is happily married to Dorothy. He is a publisher whose firm publish a series of Guides for Beginners in all manner of things. When researching one with a medical slant, Aaron meets Dorothy and after an awkward courtship, they settle into a routine appropriating wedded harmony. They maintain that for twelve years until a freak accident destroys most of their house and kills Dorothy (there’s something a tad knowing about killing a character called Dorothy by having part of a house land on her, don’t you think?). Naturally, Aaron is bereft and almost a year later, still mired in grief, Dorothy begins appearing to him……
The heart of this novel is very Anne Tyler. She’s covered the shock of losing a loved one prematurely in many of her previous works. The supernatural element is a new twist for her and tellingly, it feels uncertain, hinted at, brushed aside and never really fully developed. Mentioned in the opening chapters, it then disappears and Dorothy’s ghost doesn’t return until nearly three quarters of the way through what is quite a slim novel (I read it start to finish in one 3 hour sitting).
It’s a shame that this feels so tacked on, especially as the rest of this book is vintage Tyler. Beautiful spare prose, wonderfully rounded characters, a warmth that seems to glow out of the pages. It ends up being a low key entry into her canon, but even an Anne Tyler book that isn’t firing on all cylinders is worth more than some authors at the top of their game.