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Posts Tagged ‘Isabel Bogdan’

Translated from the German by Annie Rutherford

I was delighted recently to win a copy of The Peacock from V&Q books thanks to a giveaway hosted by Lizzy of Lizzy’s Literary Life. It seemed to be just what I was in the mood for at that time so I began reading it the day after it arrived. I absolutely loved it, quirky and light-hearted it is often difficult to believe that this was originally written in German. So often the humour seems very British. Who wouldn’t want to read a peacock whodunnit?

The setting is a dilapidated stately home in the Scottish Highlands in November. The estate is owned by Lord and Lady McIntosh – who hire out parts of the estate to holiday makers and corporate clients looking for some kind of country retreat. Aside from the dogs the laird and his wife own the grounds are home to a troublesome goose, and several peacocks – no one is quite sure how many.

“One of the peacocks had gone mad. Or maybe he just couldn’t see very well. At any rate, he suddenly regarded anything blue and shiny as competition on the marriage market.”

Thankfully, there are very few blue and shiny things in the Scottish Highlands so the only real worry are the cars that sometimes come on to the estate, it’s always a relief if they aren’t blue. Just as Lady Fiona has dispensed with one set of very satisfied guests – she must prepare for the arrival of the next. A group of London bankers will be spending three nights on a team building trip in the West Wing of the house – and her housekeeper Aileen is busy helping to get everything ship shape when she has an accident involving a Henry hoover and a step ladder. Poor Aileen comes back from hospital with her arm in plaster – and unable to resume her usual duties – in fact, it falls to Lady Fiona and Lord Hamish to look after her.

The investment department of a London bank are due to arrive – the head of the department, and her four colleagues travelling with a talented cook and a psychologist. The McIntoshes had sensed from the outset that this head of department was going to be a little difficult – but she was bringing a decent amount of money. Unfortunately, she also arrives in a brand-new metallic blue sports car. The head of department is Liz – and with her in the car is her Irish setter Mervyn. So, it’s not the most auspicious of starts when Liz steps out of the car and into some goose muck and stumbles over a rather disgustingly chewed up soft toy carried around by the McIntoshes dog Albert. The other bankers, the cook and the psychologist can only look on awkwardly.

Worried by the appearance of a very shiny blue car in the vicinity of his demented peacock, the laird instructs his groundsman Ryszard (on whom Aileen has rather a crush) to try and draw the peacocks away from the house with food. Of course, this is only partly successful.

One of the things I really enjoyed is that the reader is in on everything. A certain peacock goes missing, and later its remains are found. We know exactly what has gone on and why – but the majority of the characters don’t, which leads to lots of confusion, worry and covering up. Amidst all the worry over a dead peacock – which becomes just as much trouble dead as it ever was alive – the team building gets underway.

However, the team building doesn’t get off to the best of starts. The West Wing is not quite as luxurious as it was in its heyday, the shower is hot but only produces a trickle of water – the rooms are all quite chilly. To add insult to injury everyone but the boss Liz has to share. When it come to the team building activities designed by Rachel the psychologist it all becomes instantly awkward – the boss is there – which doesn’t really allow any of the others to relax.

“Rachel welcomed the participants to their first session and wrote three questions on a flipchart: what is important to me, what am I proud of, what do I wish for? They were to write down their answers to the questions, please, and then share them with the group. However, their answers couldn’t have anything to do with work or family.

For a moment, silence reigned. Jim took out his pen and started writing. David went pale, Andrew said quietly no. Rachel looked at him in surprise, then Bernard too said that surely she wasn’t serious, there was no way he’d do that. The boss agreed matter-of-factly with the two men – that really would be too intimate, they were here to talk about their work after all, their private lives were not a matter for discussion. The boss had a particular knack for making her opinion extremely clear.”

Rachel feels her boss has rather thrown her under the bus with this particular assignment – which is clearly going to be tricky. Bernard is almost permanently grumpy; he is sharing a bunk bed with David – who Bernard catches smirking whenever he has to get himself off the hated upper bunk. Andrew is missing his wife – Jim less so – he is taking full advantage of the fabulous food served up by their personal cook Helen. Only Helen is really content, flexing her culinary muscles and keeping everyone happy with food. She would love nothing more than to be really allowed to show off her talents. Jim simply refuses to take part in the den building exercise, head of department Liz comes down with a severe cold – and then the snow arrives – lots of it.

The portrayal of these London bankers forced together in artificial circumstances is one of the great joys of this novel. It is all uncomfortably believable and very funny. Added to which almost everyone is concerned with a dead peacock – who did what, knew what etc – a real comedy of errors. Apparently this novel was a big hit in Germany selling 500,000 copies – I can see why.

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