Marco and Doro's children have grown up rather different from them: primary schoolteacher Clara craves order and clean bathrooms, son Serge is pretending to his parents that is still doing a Maths Ph.d. at Cambridge, while in fact making loadsamoney in the City; third child Oolie Anna, who has Down's Syndrome, is desperate to escape home and live on her own. Once the truth starts breaking through, who knows what further secrets will be revealed about any of them?
CuteBadger r on Goodreads wrote:
Marina Lewycka displays her usual wit with social criticism in this touching family portrait. I loved how she's able to set up major characters and their relationship using little detours to the past of the crazy life of a commune in Northern England. This book keeps jumping from one point of view to another, which allows it to explore an environment of a depressing local school, life of a mother who clings to her adult child with Down syndrome and the virtual reality of financial markets. However, I found the last the most fascinating and timely, with a family genius son Serge struggling to win his Ukrainian princess and a castle in Brazil through covert trips to a disabled bathroom of a bank in the City of London. I felt sorry every time the book jumped from the risky world of short selling and hedging to the fight for some allotment gardens that was lost from the beginning. Especially, I wish the end of Serge's adventures was a bit more developed. Otherwise, a great funny book that will make you feel both angry at the current financial system and ashamed for not calling your mother more often.
Doro and Marcus are ageing hippies who lived in a left-wing commune in Doncaster throughout the 1970s and 80s and are still fighting the good fight against capitalism in the present day. Their three adult children Serge (a maths whizz now making tons of money in the City), Clara (a secondary school teacher) and Oolie-Anna (who has Down's Syndrome and wants her independence) are all trying to make sense of their unusual upbringing and rebel against it, each in their own way. But like every family, this one has secrets which are eventually bound to come to light.
Even if you didn't know who had written this book before you started reading it, it would be obvious that it was Marina Lewycka as it's so much in the same style as her previous books (of which I've read two). But that's a good thing, as this one is equally funny, perceptive and moving. I felt this one had more of an element of farce to it, and that it was trying to some extent to be a "state of the nation" novel, in particular in its portrayal of city traders.
The characters are real people with flaws, but also with great strengths and Lewycka draws them with great tenderness and understanding. Some passages reminded me of Sue Townsend's writing (in her non- Adrian Mole books) with its sense of the surreal running through everyday life.
The book is very funny, although I occasionally felt that it was trying a bit too hard - some of the section titles are twee and their funniness is forced.
I'm in two minds as to whether the Epilogue to the book is a good or a bad thing - don't want to say any more than that as it may spoil others' enjoyment of the book.
Overall though, I really liked "Various Pets Alive & Dead" and would recommend it.