When Frank drops dead abruptly at Heathrow, his estranged daughter Jem travels to his home in France to arrange his effects. She learns that Frank has a son she knew nothing about. With no other living relatives, she soon resolves to make contact with the son, throwing his family into chaos.
The Frank Business has just the kind of writing I enjoy, close observation of a small canvas, casting a wry eye over characters who are in conflict with themselves as much as the people around them. The author plays gleefully with our expectations too.
When we see Frank’s last night, he seems an amiable character. He is an artist, living alone in a farmhouse in Provence, listening to Radio 4 on his laptop as he paints a Christmas card for the neighbours who insist on sharing the day with him, a kindness he could do without. For Brits of a certain age and class, this is the dream life, and it seems natural to include Frank in that warm embrace. But as the novel progresses a rather more complicated picture emerges.
Similarly, Frank’s son is part of an outwardly successful and happy family, working in the media and the arts and enjoying a comfortable London life. Even when they bicker they are witty and stylish. Jem’s bombshell forces issues to the surface that might otherwise have been comfortably avoided.
The author has a lovely, arch voice. She deftly combines humour and some very dark and difficult episodes as the characters confront the past and their relationships. Then suddenly it all goes wrong. The ending is rushed, key events take place off camera, and those complex and contrary characters suddenly fall into an implausibly neat ending.
I realise there’s an injustice here. It’s the end that stays with us. If the middle portion of the book had been baggy but she’d pulled it back in the final chapters, all would be forgiven. But for me, she has raised some very interesting questions and then shied away from answering them.
There is so much that’s great about this book, I would still recommend it. For myself, I want to forget how it ended and remember the good times.
I received a copy of The Frank Business from the publisher via Netgalley.
View The Frank Business on Goodreads
Enjoyed this? For a book that shares this book’s strengths and has a pleasing structure, take a look at my review of Inside the Bone Box by Anthony Ferner