“Tony Metcalfe, Yorkshireman and retired expat, is going through a three-quarter life crisis.
Viva Espagñe – his bar at the heart of a small mountain village beyond the Costa Blanca – is failing. He wanted it to be a home away from home for British expats to enjoy some well-deserved rest under the Spanish sun. But now Brexit has the pound falling, pensions are frozen and the property crash hasn’t done them any favours. Tony loves his wife, Laney, and can’t bear to tell her of Viva’s problems. He secretly wishes he could sell the place and move back to his childhood home, but Laney would never go for it and England dredges up unresolved issues in their marriage. Besides, nobody would buy a struggling business during a recession.
Tony’s only chance is to turn his bar to profit, which looks impossible until his son, Nick, arrives for a surprise visit with his wife, Jo, and their son in tow. With the extra help, Tony has faith that things are on the up, but Jo has brought along more baggage than just their family’s suitcases. Painful revelations threaten to break apart a family already on the brink of collapse.
With the overarching theme of what it is to find home – wherever you are – Staying On is a tragi-comic geriatric coming-of-age story and a deep, loving portrait of the English working class.”
When I was offered the chance to read this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The blurb and some of the other information I was given gave me the impression that it might be more political commentary on the influence of Brexit on the ex-pat community in Spain than anything else, but this was not the case. This book is a beautiful, deeply moving portrayal of a family whose current problems are largely caused by issues in their past that they are afraid to confront and what happens when they are forced to address them by outside influences.
I really loved the book, it affected me very deeply. The issues explored of family relationships and tensions and how people can be pushed apart by a failure to communicate, are ones that we can all relate to to a greater or lesser degree and we can all feel great empathy for these characters. They are all so well written and truthful that it is impossible not to be drawn in to their story and be compelled to find out what becomes of them over the arc of the book.
The main characters are Tony and Laney Metcalfe, living the ex-pat dream in a small hillside village inland from the coast of Costa Blanca, running a small, struggling bar and moving in a circle of other ex-pats in an enclave which has been developed for the incoming immigrants. They have not really integrated into the local Spanish community and, as the effects of the 2008 financial crash and the looming threat of Brexit cause a trickle of their community to sell up and return to Britain, they find their world is shifting and becoming unsettled. The arrival of their son, Nick and his wife Jo, who seems intent on stirring things up, lead to seismic shifts in the status quo that force Tony and Laney to face issues in their marriage that have been buried for years leading to startling revelations and events.
Tony and Laney are recognisable as ordinary working class Brits who have, in their thousands, sold up and retired for their dream life in the Spanish sun, only to find it is not so dreamy after all. But of course, like all of us, they are not ordinary at all, but have extraordinary relationships and dynamics that are unique to each of us and drive us to behave the way we do, in a way that is invisible to the outside world, creating pressures and tensions and motivations that are mysterious to outsiders. The author does an amazing job of revealing these individual foibles in a way that is completely believable and compelling.
The setting was beautifully created and peopled with a fascinating cast of characters, there is some fantastic use of language and imagery that I savoured throughout, but it is the gently drawn and played out family drama which is at the heart of this story and which will draw you through the book to the very last page. It is soft and melancholy and totally true and I just fell in love with this book and the every day, unimportant but totally enthralling drama between its pages. This is a book about my life and your life and the life of everyone who is both unimportant but vital in the world, people who don’t do startling things or things that have newsworthy impact on anyone else, but who are central to the worlds of those around them and I wish there were more books like this in the world.
Staying On is out now and you can purchase a copy here.
My thanks to the publishers for my copy of this book that I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
About the Author
C M Taylor lives in Oxford, lectures at the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies and is a freelance editor of fiction. He is the author of Premiership Psycho and Group of Death, two-thirds of a satirical trilogy described as ‘Brilliant’ by The Sun, and ‘Horribly entertaining’ by The Mirror.
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Goodreads: C. M. Taylor