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Kirkus ReviewsBroadcaster Richardson, billed as Canada's Garrison Keillor, suffers from the literary humorist's bane: He shoots for whimsy, but ends up wallowing in cliché.
The novel, an elaboration of segments broadcast on CBC Radio, explores the background, opinions, and experiences of eccentric twin brothers who maintain a bed and breakfast on an island near Vancouver. An inheritance from their auto-mechanic mother, Virgil and Hector's stressless house sports a hefty library of books that Richardson deems worthwhile: Proust, Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch, A.S. Byatt, A.A. Milne. The boys have remained bachelors into their 50s—though Hector has a girlfriend, Altona Winkler, who writes for the scandalous local newspaper, Occasional Rumor. They live quietly with a cat named Waffle and a parrot named Mrs. Rochester, taking in guests who recount their impressions and stories in the brothers' guestbook. Richardson alternates sketches narrated by Hector or Virgil with guest accounts, each of which is identified as a "Brief Life": A woman recalls how she got her cocker spaniel; a lawyer reports on a harrowing New Age Weekend; a guest complains about Mrs. Rochester's cursing. The brothers' tales are less cloying, but they often seem phoned-in. "The Top Ten Authors Over Ten Years at the Bachelor Brothers' B&B" (Margaret Atwood, Anthony Trollope) and "Virgil's List of Books for When You're Feeling Low" (M.F.K. Fisher shares space with Vikram Seth) are two examples of Richardson's annoying list-making habit; there are stories about fanciful eggcups and a meditation on the subtle arts of reading and writing in bed. Flip-flopping in this manner puts enormous pressure on Richardson to be funny, which he almost never is, mainly because he's driven to celebrate the merits of a dowdy domestic life. Included are even some bad poetry and a muffin recipe.
By and large, a collection of cloying cuteness and failed wit.