Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer

The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer
  • ISBN-10: 1250071542 - Hardcover $25.99
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 24, 2015), 352 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

The blurb:
Retired architect Otto Laird is living a peaceful, if slightly bemused, existence in Switzerland with his second wife, Anika.  Once renowned for his radical designs, Otto now spends his days communing with nature and writing eccentric letters to old friends (which he doesn't mail).  But Otto's comfortable life is rudely interrupted when he learns that his most significant and revolutionary building, Marlowe House, a 1960s tower block estate in South London, is set to be demolished.

Otto is outraged.  Determined to do everything in his power to save the building, he reluctantly agrees to take part in the television documentary, which will mean returning to London for the first time in 25 years to live for a week in Marlowe House.  Once Otto becomes reacquainted with the city he called home for most of his life, his memories begin to come alive.  And as he mines his past and considers life moving forward -- for him and his building -- Otto embarks on a remarkable journey that will change everything he ever thought he knew.

Otto Laird, a retired architect living in Switzerland with his second wife, learns that Marlowe House is about to be torn down. Otto had worked on Marlowe House with his talented wife and partner Cynthia and at the time of its construction it had been an iconic building. Unfortunately, it had not acquired landmark status while its partner building which is located in a posher area of London is landmarked. In an attempt to save Marlowe House, Otto is asked to return to London to be interviewed and to spend a few days living in his old creation.

Otto himself has aged considerably, it's uncertain whether he's up for the scrutiny and the exhausting trip. But he travels to London and the experience leads him to revisit his old life. We learn about the young Otto who survived World War II living in a dark, cramped basement keeping deathly quiet. His love for light, open spaces and his reticence are partly tied to those years. We learn what Otto learns to overcome as he moves from a talented but reclusive architecture scholarship student to one of the brilliant young men of his generation, of how Otto and Cynthia met and fell in love, built a practice, grew apart and found their way back, of the history of Otto and Daniel's rocky relationship, and of how London and its spaces played a part in Otto's life.

The Restoration of Otto Laird is a book about growing into one's self, growing up, growing old - how time impacts the people and the spaces around us. I'm fascinated by architecture and buildings and Otto reminded me in part of my old grandfather, a civil engineer whose buildings are beginning to disappear. I loved The Restoration of Otto Laird - the story and Nigel Packer's writing stayed with me long after I'd finished the book.

About the Author:
Nigel Packer is a former journalist, whose eclectic writing career spanned music reviews for the BBC to a reporting officer at the International Committee for the Red Cross.  He received his BA in Archeology form the University of York and an MA from Leiden University.  Nigel lives in London and this is his first novel.  

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