Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson

In brief: This is the story of Mr Wigg, an elderly widower living alone in his orchard.

The good: The ending had me in tears

The not-so-good: It’s not action-packed, but a slow story that grows on you.

Why I chose it: Won in a competition from Hachette – thank you!

Year: 2013

Pages: 296

Publisher: Hachette

Setting: Country Australia

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

I won a copy of Mr Wigg in a Twitter competition and I’m really glad that I did. Otherwise I don’t think I would have read this wonderfully gentle book about getting old and gardening. After reading that sentence, you’re probably thinking that you wouldn’t care for it, but the book is so lyrical and mesmerising that you’ll fall under its spell. Simpson has done brilliantly with her novel.

Unsurprisingly, this book is about Mr Wigg, a widower living alone on a property in rural Australia. Times are changing in the 1970s – not only is the cricket playing short ‘one day’ games but Mr Wigg’s son gives up the land to move away, replaced by people who want to grow grapes for wine! Mr Wigg’s beloved fruit trees are the one constant in his life and he cares for them deeply. He also does a number of wonderful things with the produce – pies, jams and syrups. Her grandchildren are also a delight in his life and he often cooks with them while telling them fairy tales about the peaches in the orchard. Mr Wigg then has an idea for a sculpture after hearing about a competition running in town – but can an old man beat the young artists?

This book has a gentle pace as it trundles through the seasons. There is not a great deal of excitement, but it just works as Mr Wigg is such a lovable character. He could easily be your grandfather, plus he has incredible cooking and baking knowledge for a man of that era! Simpson tantalisingly describes the goodies Mr Wigg produces from the orchard, which in turn inspired me to produce more in the kitchen and remember my childhood surrounded by fruit trees.

The day to day life of Mr Wigg and his orchard are contrasted with the story Mr Wigg tells his grandchildren about the Peach King. This is a beautiful fairy tale and I found myself looking forward to the next instalment. The rivalries between the trees in the orchard were also a nice fantastical diversion from the inevitability of getting older and frailer. It is interesting that we don’t find out that Mr Wigg has Parkinson’s Disease ’til later on – I suspect this is only as he comes to terms with it and realises his limitations as it worsens.

As I was reading this, I felt I knew what was going to happen at the end – it was somewhat inevitable, but I really didn’t want it to happen! The ending brought a tear to my eye – it was very fitting and handled well by Simpson.

I loved this book as it was kind of like slow food – time to sit and savour the prose and story rather than dashing through the pages madly. Warm and beautiful, it celebrates the life of older Australians.

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