The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer © 2014 Sphere
One of retired architect, Otto Laird’s, crowning achievements—a high rise block of flats—is threatened by the wrecking ball. Otto decides to try to have the building “listed” as architecturally/historically significant, so it may be preserved. He enlists a documentary crew and agrees to live in his building for a period of time to prove his commitment.
A decent premise, which acts as a springboard for Otto reflecting on his life, particularly where he has failed. He’s had an interesting life—a childhood Jew hiding from Nazis, later an anti-nuclear activist, then a noted architect, then a philanderer, leading to an “open” marriage, then his first wife dying from a brain tumor, followed by estrangement from his only child for remarrying too quickly, and now trying to cope with getting old and being forgotten. Lots going on with Otto. A little too much, in my opinion. I wish Packer had focused the book on one or two of Otto’s regrets instead of devoting so much time to all of them. It made Otto so regretful he was hard to like.
Throughout the building preservation effort, Otto reconciles with abandoning his Jewish heritage, his treatment of wife #1, the troubles he’s caused by taking wife #2, the only child whom he neglected, and the deterioration of himself and his high rise. The reconciliations take place in long thought trains and letters, which are eloquently expressed, but lacked the drama of character-to-character interaction.
Restoration is Literature—appealing for its smart phrases and symbolism. It is not a page-turner drama with any real surprises. If you read it for the word-smithing rather than plot, you won’t be disappointed. As a genre writer, I’m more drawn to plot action than eloquence, so bear in mind my prejudices. Even for me, though, Packer’s use of the English language was artful enough to save Restoration from my recycling bin.