Henry, himself by Stewart O'Nan
Reviewed by Miss Moneypenny
Hastings District Libraries
I seemed to have been lately reading novels with quirky introverted characters; The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker to name just two. They are the sort of stories to be read at leisure. So what better time, in the midst of the 2020 Covid 19 Lockdown, to read something in a similar vein.
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Henry Maxwell is a retired gentleman once a soldier and an engineer, always a husband, father and grandfather. The year is 1998 and we share this with Henry in his 75th year. As each chapter captures a moment in the year, we experience the smaller details of Henry's life.
These everyday minutiae are poignantly shared; from the humour of trying to stop Rufus the dog from killing patches of grass with his peeing, to the joy of receiving a perfect Father's Day present from his children.
In Attic Treasures Henry tries to persuade Emily, his wife, to get rid of the junk cluttering their basement to the annual rummage sale. As he lists every item he thinks should go, I can't help thinking I wouldn't have minded Henry's mother's old meat grinder. As he sorts through Emily's mostly reluctant donations, he finds she is giving away one of his childhood mementos; his mother's table decoration of coloured glass grapes. I shared with Henry his dilemma of whether to keep or discard as we often do in later years - decide how much of the past do we keep in our present day lives.
Childhood memories (not always fond), gruesome army experiences, steamy sex, young married life and his children's fraught teenage years all occupy the mind of Henry as he potters around his house and garden filling out his days with odd jobs and visits to the hardware store.
After completing the book I checked to see what other books Stewart O'Nan had written and discovered Henry, Himself is classified as a prequel written after two others in the Maxwell series. When discovering a new series it is always a dilemma whether to read the books in the order written or chronically. For this series, reading the prequel first feels right.
Beautifully captured without needless sentimentality Henry, Himself was a pleasure to read. For more information visit www.hastingslibraries.co.nz or phone 871 500