This was a lovely book, told in a confidential, almost chatty style that quickly transported me into Maquil's life. It was as though the story was being read to me by a much-loved relative, and I both loved and loathed Maquil just as his own family do in the book.
If I were teaching classes in novel-writing, this would be the perfect book for the lesson entitled, "how to make an unsympathetic character sympathetic." When you look at it objectively, Maquil is awful. He's utterly selfish, lazy, dishonest, a quitter, and has almost no redeeming features at all. And yet I fell for his twinkle-eyed charm every bit as much as his wives, and it's testament to the author's skill that she managed to make him lovable in spite of all his faults.
This book wasn't all fun and games with a lovable rogue, however. There are some very dark moments in Maquil's life, particularly as he grows older, and the book has lots to say about the treachery of the aging body and the decrepitude which awaits us all, provided we make it that far. Maquil has regrets, though if he were to live his life again, we wonder if he would be able to change things, or if his nature would compel him to do it all the same.
I'm teetering on the edge of a five-star rating with this one, but I don't think it quite makes it. I loved it, but it wasn't quite electrifying enough for that extra star. I do think it deserved a place on the shortlist, though, and I would have certainly picked this over Painter of Silence or The Forgotten Waltz. How does one go about becoming an Orange judge, anyway?