Tuesday, 6 December 2016

LOVE, OR NEAREST OFFER by Adèle Geras, reviewed by Celia Rees

They say that moving house is one of the most stressful life events, up there with losing a job, marriage, divorce, death of a spouse. Adèle Geras uses her considerable skill to weave all these peak stress experiences together in her thoroughly enjoyable Love, or Nearest Offer

The people on estate agent Iris Atkins' books are not just looking for a new house, they are seeking new lives, new partners, new opportunities. We often look on the right move as a chance for a fresh start. Expectations are high, so are the disappointments. The ideal home can prove as illusionary and elusive as the ideal life. 

Will they? Won't they? Will the deal fall through or will they complete? The nailbiting ups and downs, the triumphs and pitfalls of the property ladder makes this as much of a page turner, as much of a rollercoaster ride as any thriller. Geras cleverly taps in to the common trauma, uncovering our own anxiety. We've all been there, haven't we? Recent and raw or distanced by years, the experience is is all too easily recalled. Her characters are immediately recognisable and appealing: the widower, the divorcée, the young couple with child looking to swap a flat in town for a family home. Geras builds their lives and personalities with care and patience, exploring their different points of view. She knows that the more we know about them, the more we will want to know and the more we will want to find out if they are making the right move. The story is told over a year. Plenty of time for things to go wrong.  

The book is not just about house moves, good or bad, it is about life moves and what the characters actually need beyond the right house and garden, balcony with a view. Iris Atkins is no ordinary estate agent. She's the kind of estate agent we all yearn for. A fairy goddaughter of estate agents, dedicated to matching the right property to the right client, busy finding neat solutions to their housing needs while sorting out their messy lives. So busy, in fact, that she scarcely has time to put her own life in order. Will she get her own chance of happiness? Iris is the matrix that holds the story together so, of course, we hope she does.  

Adèle Geras is not just good at people, she is good at houses. The properties are as important as the vendors and buyers. We need to care who will end up where. Geras is a superb writer about things: houses and gardens, fixtures and fittings, furnishings, look and texture, so different from Robinson & Tyler 's chirpy Newsletter, Bruce's Barnet Bulletin. We begin to want along with the characters, to share their surging hopes and crushing disappointments as deals form and fall through.   

This is a thoroughly engaging, captivating novel. It takes real ability and experience to write with such seeming insouciant ease. Adèle Geras quickly enmeshes us in the lives of her characters. We are invited to follow the different strands of their stories like some complicated knitting pattern, to wonder how it will all work out, not least for the inestimable Miss Atkins. Will she, won't she find happiness? The author keeps us guessing until the very last page.  

Celia Rees


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