The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer — Book Recommendation
May 23, 2016
Author: Nigel Packer
Publisher: London: Sphere, 2014.
Genre: Adult fiction
Theme: self-renewal, aging
Opening Sentences: It was not uncommon, these days, for Anika Laird to return from one of her morning trips to town to find her husband standing naked in the kitchen window. The first time it happened she was mildly surprised; by now it had become the stuff of routine.
Synopsis: Otto Laird is an aging architect who finds his life crumbling around him as he faces the trials of aging while attempting to recuperate from multiple surgeries. As if this weren’t enough of a challenge, he learns that one of his signature concrete tower buildings in London is facing demolition. From his safe niche in Switzerland he rails against the sort of “progress” that includes the destruction of monuments such as his building. He enlists others on the ground in London to assist him in blocking the demolition, and eventually – much to the dismay of his wife, who knows the extent of his health problems – Otto makes the trip to London to get personally involved in the protest.
He agrees to be the focus of a documentary that will echo a similar program done about the building when it was first constructed in the 1960s. The new program will showcase the building and its tenants and the fact that such iconic buildings should be preserved, not destroyed. As part of the process, Otto will spend a few days and nights living in the building with the current tenants.
When he first sees his tower again, he is dismayed. The grounds are a mess, the walls are covered in graffiti, the elevators rarely work, and there is an air of hopelessness that pervades the atmosphere. As he experiences life in the building, he gets to know some of the tenants, the difficulties they face, and he discovers that while it is a stellar example of its style of architecture, it is not the easiest place in which to actually live.
He is torn between preserving this icon of another age – a term that could be used to describe him, as well – and realizing that there is a time when things should be ended. As he struggles with this question, he has to face many of the dysfunctional aspects of his life as well as of his building.
Once I got into this book, I found it had a great deal to say about aging, and about family and community, and about how our society deals (or doesn’t deal) with these things. I recommend it.
For Further Enrichment:
There is an excellent review of this book in the Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.