On the way to his wife Anna’s funereal, Harry Rent stops off at Café Retro for lunch in order to indulge his crush on Molly, a twenty-something waitress. Ordering a meal he doesn’t want just to impress her, Harry gets caught up in a fantasy of derring-do sexuality and is late for the ceremony. Is Harry stunned with grief, or is he just that shallow? The answer to both is yes. And this is the problem.
As the story unfolds, Harry attempts to come to terms with his wife’s death by reinventing himself. This journey is undertaken with so much emotional constipation and so little insight, one begins to feel Anna is better off dead. Maybe Molly is too.
There are slapstick escapades with Eastern European prostitutes, clichéd police officers, an exercise bike, and a urinating man two flights up, all which get in the way of liking Harry. He models himself after the Count of Monte Cristo, attempting good deeds to impress Molly. This idea is presented as a long shot and Harry as a hapless hero. Failure seems certain. When Molly does fall for him, it isn’t quite believable.
For that matter, would the beautiful, confident Anna really go in for plastic surgery to compete with Harry’s whores? What’s she doing with Harry in the first place? Is it likely that the middle-aged, physically unfit Harry would manage to beat up Molly’s much younger tattooed biker of a boyfriend? The novel depends upon the reader buying into this implausibility.
Harry, Revised is filled with glib, uneven narration, cardboard characters, and unlikely plot twists. Mark Sarvas has had success as a blogger, authoring The Elegant Variation. His attention—and ours—is better placed there.
(Harry, Revised, Mark Sarvas, Text Publishing, $32.95.)
Review first published in The Courier-Mail in 2008.