In phone calls to his daughter in Australia, widower Hubert Bird paints a picture of the perfect retirement, packed with fun and friendship.
But Hubert Bird is lying.
Something has made him turn his back on people, and he hardly sees a soul.
So when his daughter announces she’s coming to visit, Hubert faces a race against time: to make his real life resemble his fake life before he’s found out.
Along the way Hubert renews a cherished friendship, is given a second chance at love and even joins an audacious community scheme. But with the secret of his earlier isolation lurking in the shadows, is he destines to always be one of the lonely people?
I cried for what felt like half of this book.
It was beautiful. Heart-warming. And so very sad.
Hubert is an 85 year old, Jamaican man, living by himself and he’s lonely. He waits for his daughter to call every week before he details an incredibly rich life.
He has friends.
He goes out every day.
He tells her about all the incredible things he gets up to.
But then his daughter announces she’s coming to visit and Hubert now has to make his lies a reality.
I’ll be honest I have thought about Hubert everyday since I’ve read this book.
“That’s the funny thing about life. Extraordinary things can happen to ordinary people like you and me, but only if we open ourselves up enough to let them.”
When you’re young it feels like you have all the time in the world. All the energy too but you can’t do much because you’re not old enough. Then you finally reach an age that allows you to have independence but there’s no time aside from work, personal life and travelling.
And then you get older. Suddenly, your friends are dying. You don’t have as much energy as you used to.
And sometimes, you’re by yourself.
Loneliness is truly one of the most devastating emotions. It can really rock you. Leave you in the lowest of places.
There’s a few studies that suggest loneliness can lead to physical and mental health declines and there’s an even greater risk of death, especially with the older generation.
Which is why my heart warmed whenever Hubert made a friend. I adored his relationship with Ashleigh, his young next door neighbour. I loved how he then began to sought out other people. He decided loneliness was enough and found a community. And I can’t express the importance of community.
Community is something I feel my generation struggle with. When I listen to stories from my grandparents, they detail how they were friends with everyone on their road. They knew all the Caribbean families within a 0.5 mile radius (maybe more).
Every birthday. Every party. Every single life moment was shared and celebrated. In a country, that didn’t welcome them. Far away from the families they knew, they created their own. They created a safe space.
“Everything new sounds ridiculous until someone makes it happen.”
And with Hubert, as we flick back and forth between past and present, we see how much that changes once they get older and how his community was no longer around due to age. Mike Gayle explores the treatment of the Windrush community when they came over from the Caribbean and the heartache they feel at leaving their families behind.
Hubert refuses to let his mother know how truly homesick he is after a few weeks of living in England. And you can only imagine just how he felt, especially entering a country that wasted no time in making sure you remember that you don’t belong. A country where Hubert experienced countless racism despite wanting to keep his head down.
There’s almost a forbidden love between Hubert and his wife, reflecting the attitudes of Britain at the time. And Mike Gayle really showcases the highs and lows of marriage, even with the ignorance that was exhibited.
This book is great at highlighting how loneliness can affect everyone and anyone regardless of age. Whether you’re freshly single, moved to a new area/country and more. There are people who go weeks without saying a single word to another human being.
Loneliness is something everyone goes through at some point. With Hubert, we see how sometimes we feel safer not to have anyone that we care about. We fear getting hurt by putting ourselves out there. But yet, this book is reminder that there’s so much to life.
There’s so much to live for.
Even when everyone around us leaves, whether that’s by choice or not. And when they do, it can suddenly feel like our life is over as a consequence. Everyone we’ve ever known or been comfortable with is gone.
But yet, Mike Gayle highlights that it’s never too late to make friends and form a community.
The beauty of life is the connections we make with those around us. Hubert is a testament to that. We’ll always be remembered for the way we made people feel, rather than what we do or don’t have.
If you’re looking for a book that will pull at your heartstrings, make you cry, bring you joy and laugh out loud…then this one is for you. It teaches us that we can all start by being kinder to one another.
And that friendships don’t have parameters or boundaries. They aren’t based on age, gender or race.
All it takes is one shared interest…and a smile.
“After all, it was always easier to meet new people if there were two of you. It gave you confidence and made you feel at ease.”