Richard Roper, whose debut novel “Something to Live For” (2020) featured a character seeking the aspiration of the title, is back with “This Disaster Loves You,” about another man whose story is not quite what it seems.
Brian owns a pub on the English coast, purchased with his wife more than a decade ago. He worked at a London insurance agency before that, while his wife, Lily, edited a magazine. They bought The County Arms in Thrupstone, U.K., in 2007, refurbished it, and as the online review that prefaces the book says, turned it into a “charming pub” with “lovely wine and local beers, too.”
The story opens in 2017 with Brian waking up, alone, in the apartment above the pub, and we learn that Lily disappeared seven years ago. No note, didn’t take her phone, just vanished. From then on it’s a pretty rapid back-and-forth between the present and the past, as we are treated to the major beats of Brian and Lily’s relationship, beginning with their meet-cute in 1995 on Primrose Hill, to their happiest days as young lovers in London and then owners of their “dream pub.”
When Brian reads a series of Tripadvisor reviews from someone called PinkMoonLily1970 and traces them back to the time of Lily’s disappearance, he sets off on an adventure. The goal, of course, is to find Lily, but it naturally becomes a voyage of self-discovery as well.
Roper writes fluid, readable prose, as charming as The County Arms: “In the flush of youthful love, there I was removing half a Twix from between the pages of an A to Z street map and feeling like the luckiest man in the world,” is how Roper describes the first time Brian rode in Lily’s white Renault Clio. Or Brian’s inaugural meeting of Lily’s parents, Forbes and Verity, who inhabit a different level of British society: “I found myself making lots of nervous jokes about how I wouldn’t know what fork to use with my quail at dinner, and how we should have brought a bottle of the ’52 with us rather than the ’58.”
As Brian’s search for Lily takes him from Bath to Stonehenge to other places worthy of online reviews, he meets a fellow traveler named Tess, a New Zealander separated from her husband after 22 years. Tess provides someone for Brian to open up to and allows Roper to deftly change the tone of the book. By the end, all the details of Brian and Lily’s story are satisfyingly filled in, and we’re dropped off as readers back at The County Arms, which just might earn another five-star review again in the future.
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