This thought-provoking and poignant novel from author Jon Lawrence is a touching meditation on the nature of love and grief as well as a page-turning read in its own right.
The eccentric (some might say ‘difficult’) central character is septuagenarian Anwyn Jones, whose Miss Marple-esque ‘sweet little old lady’ appearance is at odds with her dirty sense of humour and straight-talking attitude.
After many years living in London with her beloved husband Michael, she returns to her hometown on the coastal Welsh village of St. David’s after his death.
Anwyn and Michael’s bond had been so close as to virtually exclude all others, with the childless pair also eschewing modern trappings such as television and the ‘interweb’ in favour of conversation and the reading of poetry – Michael himself being both a renowned poet and lecturer in poetry.
Bereft in her simple cottage, she is shaken by an apparent deterioration in her memory. Suspecting it could be the first stage of dementia, she is terrified of losing her memories of Michael. Given the simplicity and avoidance of technology that typified their lives together, those recollections are all that she has left.
Anwyn finds a battered old radio in her new home and trying it out, stumbles across a local poetry show featuring the works of enigmatic poet Jack Newton.
Every night at 9pm she tunes in and finds solace in his poetry readings, which deal with the subjects of love, loss and inner strength. Alone and isolated in her new home, she feels the poems speak directly to her own sense of grief, and sets about tracking down the poet’s works but with little success.
After she accidentally burns herself, Anwyn meets Maggie, a kindly nurse who opens up her home – and life – to this kindly yet cantankerous character, and it soon becomes apparent that Maggie and her family are suffering too.
Her husband, Huw’s near-lapse into infidelity threatens to overturn the marriage, and their gentle, nature-loving son Peter is being violently bullied at school.
Despite her own crippling grief, she tries to guide Peter and becomes closer to his father, who is remorseful for his actions.
But it is a crisis involving Peter that finally brings things to a head for Anwyn and which allows her to move on with her life once more.
To reveal anything more would be to risk spoiling a big twist, but suffice to say all the threads come to a satisfying and moving conclusion.
Lawrence, who has experienced tragedy in his own life, subtly introduces the characters and their back stories throughout the book, and shares their intertwined journey as the open wounds of grief and depressions slowly heal.
There are no easy answers here. He makes it clear that loss affects people in different ways and to different degrees, and nothing will completely wipe away the pain just as nothing will ever extinguish the love they feel. They are flip-sides of the same emotion.
However, he does observe that it is only through establishing new connections – be it with people or through poetry, for instance – that recovery can occur.
The author is, himself, also an established poet and at the close of the book there is a collection of poems by the fictional ‘Jack Newton’. It’s a nice bonus and one that may well be a comfort to readers.
The Jack Newton Radio deals with heavy themes but is an uplifting and rewarding read which celebrates the enduring power of love and companionship.
The Jack Newton Radio, by Jon Lawrence, is available now priced £6.99 in paperback and £2.50 in Kindle Edition. Visit Amazon UK