The Cucumber Man, by David Nobbs

Third in the trilogy, and in fact this feels like the "final" book: the last couple of chapters skim quickly over several years of Henry's life, and include the deaths of various major characters. I'm now on to the fourth book in the series, but I don't think Nobbs can have expected to write that one.

This still has the power to move me. Perhaps some of the saddest bits of Henry's life, with two marriages ending, and the passing of Mrs Wedderburn and cousin Hilda.

This exploits consistency for poignant effect: having been told so many times about Hilda's sniffing, we have been told all through about Hilda's sniff:

"I'm pregnant," said Hilary
Cousin Hilda's face didn't move, but a single tear ran down her cheek, and Henry recognised it for what it was. It was a tear for the life she might have led....
And then she sniffed.
Henry recognised it as a truly historic sniff.
It was the first time that Cousin Hilda had sniffed not out of disapproval, but because her nose was running.

Mrs. Wedderburn is frequently mentioned by Cousin Hilda, although hardly ever present. He gets Hilda's speech patterns right, too. Reminds me of my Grandma, both in grammar and sentiment:

Cousin Hilda said "Mrs. Wedderburn said 'I can't understand why she writes novels, a nice girl like her. I prefer biographies, me. At least you know they're true.' She's very direct, is Mrs. Wedderburn, but she has a heart of gold. Where I'd ever have found another friend like her I do not know"
notice: "I do not know", not "I don't know".

A bit that always gets me, as Henry has to explain to his children why their mum has left him:

"Did you throw a kipper at her?" asked Kate.
"Good heavens, no," said Henry. "Why do you say that?"
"Sally Cranston's daddy threw a kipper at Sally Cranston's mummy."
"Oh dear. No, I didn't throw a kipper."
"Was what you did as silly as throwing a kipper?"
"It was much sillier."
Jack's eyes widened in astonishment, and he forgot completely about his quivering lip.
"Much sillier than throwing a kipper!" he said, with deep awe. "I can't imagine anything that's much sillier than throwing a kipper."
Lucky you, thought Henry. I can, and I'm going to have to live with it for a very long time.

Re-read in 2016. This is the most sentimental of the trilogy - maybe not quite as strong as the first two, but really caught me and made me cry again. As well as the quotes above, I highlighted

He stood up somewhat stiffly. His back was giving him gyp, and his temper hadn't been improved by his doctor's explanation that we were designed to walk on all fours, not on two legs, thereby implying that our endless pain is entirely the result of the hubris of the species and is in no way caused by the incompetence of the medical profession.

Completed : 6-Jan-2008

Completed : 30-Jun-2016

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