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Live a Little


Live a Little

Ninety-something Beryl Dusinbery’s carer thinks little old ladies are all sweet. That woman has stars in her eyes when it comes to Beryl. Few who know the old gal would call the Princess (Beryl’s name for herself) sweet. Her memory may be shot, but her sharp tongue hasn’t lost its snap. She cherishes words, doesn’t mince them, and castigates those who do not know how to use them.

Beryl’s sons --- she’s unsure how many of them she has --- visit on a somewhat irregular basis. At least two of them do. She might remember a third one, and possibly a fourth, but it’s of little matter at this point. Nothing can change that now. And the ones she does remember, and speaks to, rather amuse her and sort of annoy her.

"A little bit love story, a lot character study, LIVE A LITTLE will touch your heart and your funny bone at the same time. Go on, enjoy!"

To be honest, Beryl takes pleasure in toying with people --- all people, not just family. It seems the Princess enjoys torturing her domestic workers maybe more than anyone else in life. They rarely receive a kind word from her or a happy look. Well, they can count themselves lucky that the old woman is still continent.

Continence is one thing that Shimi Carmelli worries about. He never leaves home without a mental map of the locations of the toilets on his intended route. Despite this (undisclosed) torment, Shimi qualifies as one of North London’s most eligible bachelors, at least among the over-80 crowd. That’s partially due to the deftness with which he can do up his trouser buttons. North London appears to be teeming with widows, socially hungry ones at that. Shimi finds himself the object of many invitations. It’s a position he despises, considering that he’s a solitary individual and prone to enjoying evenings alone or exercising his cartomancy --- fortune-telling with cards --- at the Chinese restaurant downstairs. He’s an apologetic man who suffers from a lack of self worth, constantly agonizing over past sins. And unfortunately, unlike Beryl, Shimi remembers very well.

Happenstance (possibly by design) brings the two oldsters together, forming just about the unlikeliest of friendships imaginable. It begins when they strike up a conversation, a somewhat contentious one, but one that suits them both. They could hardly be more different. Beryl doesn’t do nice. She does honest, she does confrontational, and sometimes she does cantankerous. (There’s no better word for it.) Shimi does avoidance, he does denial, and he sometimes drops his guard enough to allow her a glimpse deeper inside him. Really, though, what’s to lose? These two are pushing 100, so it’s now or never. Time to live a little. And Beryl intends to see to it that Shimi does.

Howard Jacobson’s novel turns the notion of old folks languishing in a retirement home on its head. These Londoners live in their own flats, plot devious ways to become the most popular among them, snag the eligible bachelor, and hold social events galore. They may be almost centenarians, but that doesn’t mean they can’t act like teenagers. A little bit love story, a lot character study, LIVE A LITTLE will touch your heart and your funny bone at the same time. Go on, enjoy!

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on September 27, 2019

Live a Little
by Howard Jacobson

  • Publication Date: September 10, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth
  • ISBN-10: 198482421X
  • ISBN-13: 9781984824219