Ian Pemberton by Steven Hugh

Ian PembertonIan Pemberton by Steven Hugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hugh delivers another slow-burner in his second novel, Ian Pemberton. True to the blurb, Ian, a young Englishman, wakes up one morning fed up with his current state of life and yearns for a change. His wife, Madeleine, who seems to be the more practical of the two, is shocked and somewhat angered by his arbitrary decision to take the day off from work. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel.
That same day Ian comes across an advertisement for a housing developer in the south of Spain (the very same one that swindled Roy in Hugh’s first novel, Barbara Baker; loved the thread of connection there and the cameo appearances put in by Roy and Barbara toward the end) and receives a moment of inspiration. Over the next few weeks Ian convinces Madeleine to pull up roots and venture off to Spain with him and not just for vacation, but for the long haul. Ian wants to experiment in entrepreneurship and in a foreign country no less!
The rest of the book covers Ian and Madeleine’s misadventures in Spain as Ian, with Madeleine’s support and shop help, struggles to create, build and sustain his risky garden decoration business. It’s clear that Ian is at home in Spain, taking to the warmer temperatures and cultural differences with an ease that makes his wife’s stodgy insistence on sticking to all things English (all things familiar, if you will; she is a stranger in a strange land, you grok?). I enjoyed this distinction which made it easier to relate to these characters beyond the surface “oh right, I’m not too happy with my life right now. Why not fantasize about setting up shop in some other beautiful country?” Their marital relationship reminded me quite a bit of my own where I’m the easy going, stress-lazy, go with the flow half while my spouse is the practical (yet also still strangely loves to spend money like there’s a tree in my backyard sprouting twenties year round but don’t tell her I said that) one that does everything she can to support the idealistic dreamer in me. This distinction also highlights the strife between Spanish locals living in a foreigner-overrun area of their country which brought the setting into constant foreground. I especially appreciated the early reference to the British television show Top Gear in referencing how the locals drive. It provided the perfection image since I’ve caught a few episodes and know exactly what he means; those guys drive like maniacs! Kudos to Hugh for delivering ultra-relatable characters once again.
I’m under the impression that Hugh knows the area he writes about with intimate familiarity, or has at least done extensive research into his subject matter. There were points in the reading that were a little too “research-y” in that Ian’s travails in establishing his business are portrayed with often tedious detail. I wondered at the necessity of this until I realized this was one more way that Hugh snags your attention (although sometimes almost loses it) and plunges you directly into all of Pemberton’s frustrations. The eye gets as tired in reading all the intricate details of certificate achievements and where to get them as much as Ian’s brain goes on overload in dealing with it all. A little less detail might have sufficed and probably saved him a few thousand words but I also don’t think it’s Hugh’s style to move very far outward in a birds’ eye perspective. He wants you to not only know these characters but to live their lives with them, feeling their emotional highs and lows in the same moments that they do. That means getting right down in the dirt with them, mucking and grubbing about with as much grumbling and grousing as Madeleine produces (and probably rightly so; I’d be inclined to put up as much fuss if my husband hadn’t put much forethought into the future as would seem proper for such a gambit).
As always, Hugh’s writing is well practiced, and easy to read. Much to my pleasure, despite the majority of the characters being English, the long stretches of dialog noted in his Barbara Baker are nowhere to be found in this book. Neither are there interminable patches of dialectic patterns to stumble over in the reading. Being set in Spain the text is interspersed with dialog in the native language. While it’s not overwhelming, there wasn’t any substantial effort at translating this dialog either, so for someone who isn’t fluent in Spanish there was a lot of guess work and referring to Google Translate to get the gist of multilingual conversations.
The ending to the story was both expected but also somewhat surprising. The connection between Ian and his local friend, Julia, remains pretty well understated throughout the book and only starts to really develop toward the end, written as slyly and subtly as the actual culmination of an attraction no one, the characters included, anticipated.
There really weren’t too many negative detractors to this book. I would recommend revamping the blurb since there isn’t much in the way of hooking the potential reader and making them intensely curious to find out just what Ian Pemberton is all about. I’d also suggest a title revision on the same grounds. Lackluster title and blurb kills the possibility of attraction as quickly as a wad of spinach caught between the teeth of that hottie you’ve been eyeing up for the last three hours when you finally stir up the nerve to introduce yourself and they give you a beaming smile that makes you want those three hours back.
I give Ian Pemberton 3 stars for effort, unable to give it a full four star rating for the above mentioned reasons.

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