I didn\’t expect to like this book. It sounded like it might be a bit dull when I first picked it up. But it really was a pleasant surprise. The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers by Paul Torday is one of those books that you can just happily lose yourself in. Nothing too dramatic happens â€“ well, actually a lot does happen but the style of writing lends itself to a very calm, soothing experience.
Charlie Summers is a drifter. A harmless enough man, he spends his life moving from place to place as one scam after another fails to make the fortune he desires. From selling Japanese dog food with some nasty side effects, to wine that has a distinct odour of beetroot, Charlie will try anything to make some cash.
But Charlie is not the main focus here. The narrator of this delightful story is Major Hector “Eck” Chetwode-Talbot who, with his best friend Henry, meets Charlie while holidaying in France. Eck is somewhat disconcerted by the strangers overly familiar approach, but assumes they will never see him again when they leave France. Charlie, however has other ideas – never one to miss out on a potential opportunity he looks them up when back in England and somehow or another winds up being known as a relative of Henry\’s and having debt collectors knocking down Eck\’s door chasing unpaid credit cards.
Eck meanwhile seems to have a pretty hopeless life himself. Although making big money working for an investment fund he has doubts about the real viability of the scheme and is haunted by his time in Afghanistan with the army. He longs for a stable life in the country, and perhaps someone to share it with.
The lives of these three men become irrevocably entwined, and for better or worse, Eck can\’t help but help Charlie out time and again. While Charlie continues to attempt ever more useless scams, and Eck continues to have doubts about the money business the story manages to draw out some big issues â€“ the war on terror and the looming global financial crisis – with finesse. These issues are not the main focus of the book but their presence is felt by all of the characters as they struggle with them in varying degrees. Eck is the hardest hit, with his ongoing nightmares about an incident in Afghanistan and the guilt he feels at drawing friends and acquaintances into the investment fund he works for.
And Charlie bumbles along, never really getting anywhere, but in the end finds a kind of redemption whilst helping Eck in the biggest possible way. So, overall, I have to say that I loved this book â€“ it is written in an understated way that draws you in and makes you believe in the characters, and provides you with a thoroughly engaging story without making you work too hard for it.
Available now: Hachette RRP$32.99