Book review: Toni Jordan’s Dinner With The Schanbels is a charming novel about life after lockdown
If you thought it was too early for a novel about the pandemic, you might be put off by the premise of Tony Jordan most recent book, Dinner with the Schnabels…do not be ! Known for her versatility in contemporary and historical genres, the Melbourne-based novelist has just published her first novel with Hachette.
Schnabels follows down-on-his-luck former architect Simon Larsen, who was forced to make some life changes after the lockdown. After losing his business and then his house, Simon found himself in a kind of rut. To make matters worse, his wife’s family seem to be watching his every move – especially his stepmother, who never expected much from Simon in the first place. In fact, Simon wouldn’t blame his wife, Tansy, if she decided to leave him.
The novel takes place over the space of a week and is structured around Simon’s attempts to complete a landscape gardening job for a childhood friend of Tansy after the previous company pulled out of the job at the last minute. . At the end of said week, Gloria Schnabel organizes a memorial for her ex-husband who died the year before. Simon doesn’t quite understand why David Schnabel was as absent as a husband and father could be…at least for his three oldest children.
Also attending the memorial is David’s daughter from his second marriage, Monica, who surreptitiously ends up crashing with the Larsens. And a very unconventional guest is just the beginning. Soon, Simon must deal with a parade of problems that may well prevent him from finishing the first paying job he’s had in months. Which begs the question, is this the beginning of the end for the Larsen?
Like Jordan’s previous novel, useless little hearts, Dinner with the Schnabels is a kind of joke. It’s hilarious, yes, but then the pathos of this novel sneaks up on the reader. One moment you giggle uncontrollably at something cute or rude one of the kids says; the next day, you clench your heart and hold back your tears. It would be easy to imagine this novel being adapted into a television mini-series starring most of the actors from Offspring. In fact, the only criticism I could possibly have of this novel is that it was almost impossible to put down, and I was almost late to brunch because I didn’t want to stop reading it.
Sometimes it reminded me of the suburban charm of a Liane Moriarty novel. Jordan’s characters are larger than life in the best possible way, from the social media influencer Mon (who fooled everyone for a minute), to the surprising twist of the stepmother trope that is Gloria. Simon himself is a layered point-of-view character, and although the book is in third person, the reader is still aware of the distorted way he sees his own situation, which gives the book a sense of drama. irony.
And yes, it is a pandemic novel. It’s not about the spread of the virus or people getting sick and having to wear masks. But this is a man who must pick up the pieces after the major economic upheaval that has accompanied COVID-19, as well as having to reassess what is really important in his life. Hopefully this will be the start of many insightful post-pandemic novels to come. And I hope all the writers who turn their pen to this particular chapter in our history are as smart as Toni Jordan.
I couldn’t rate it otherwise. Dinner with the Schnabels is a 5 star read for sure. Run, don’t walk.