Book review: The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock by Jane Riley

(cover image courtesy Lake Union Publishing)

There is something utterly captivating about watching someone come alive after years, nay decades, spent making themselves into as small and non-descript a shape as possible.

Or in the case of Oliver, the titular protagonist in The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock by Sydney author Jane Riley who finds himself, after a period of great, understandably enervating trauma, coming alive and truly owning who he is and what he wants for the first time.

It’s a gentle but heady journey, one that Riley infuses with just the right amount of humanity, humour, quirkiness and emotional honesty to make it feel authentically affecting.

Told in the first person by the titular character, The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock is a delight, a novel that offers the hope of epiphanies and happy endings but without treating its lead character like he is the destined-to-be-happy central figure in a fairytale.

He is very much a real person, someone who struggles with unrequited hopes and dreams and who, though he may be mired in a rut of his own and his mother’s making, is constantly looking for a way forward even if he often fails to act on his lofty, journaled ambitions.

“They say old habits die hard, which is true, but I also think that new habits are born easily when you live on your own. Like talking to yourself. Ordering pantry items in alphabetical order, Storing balled-up socks in colour-coordinated rows in a drawer. Buying microwave meals for one when you should be cooking from scratch, because you really do love to cook. And fantasising a life that isn’t yours, all from the comort of your sofa.” (P. 3)

The glorious part of Oliver Clock, a third-generation funeral director (he runs the family business) who is fastidious in appearance and action – though you can just tell he is yearning to break free if he can just give himself permission to do so – is how likeable he is pretty much every step of the way.

He is as fallible as the rest of us and just as prone to be less than perfect despite his best intentions but he is never less than thoughtful and considerate though that impulse often extends more to the people around him and far less to himself.

Thanks to some family trauma, which his mother still can’t discuss, Oliver is a man constrained by a myriad of things – the history of his family’s funeral home which is looking a little dog-eared and less than dynamic, his mother’s firm opinions on everything and his own internal need to acquiesce at every opportunity.

His is not, by accident and subconscious design, a pushing-the-envelope kind of life, and even though his endless lists committing himself to grand life-changing actions fill notepads innumerable, he finds himself stymied by his own inability to make good on his starry-eyed ambitions.

It is tempting at times to get frustrated with Oliver inability to see what’s best for him and act on it but then we are all guilty of hoping and wishing for one thing and then letting inertia or our own fears and lack of confidence or existential certainty sink those grand designs back into the abyss of our own day-to-day neglect.

In that respect, Oliver Clock feels wonderfully, relatably normal and you can well understand how he can be looking his best life square in the eye and fail to see it for what it is.

We’ve all been there and Oliver Clock is no different to the rest of us.

(image courtesy Amazon)

All of which makes every last word in this delightful book feel so winningly, delightful alive.

This is a book about and written for everyone who has ever longed for more, and who has been ready to act on the impulse and yet failed to execute on all their hand on heart intentions.

Mixing in elements of romantic comedy, drama and a great big dollops of self-deprecating wit and self-awareness – Oliver may not be able to act on what he wants but he is, for the most part (save for one significant narrative thread) aware of what he wants – The Likely Resolution of Oliver Clock resonates with a profound sense that change in life is possible if we can just entangle ourself from our lacklustre present and cut ourselves free from the consequences of past actions, many of which are taken well before we have the cognitive and emotional ability to make better.

Over the course of this captivatingly lovely novel, which surges with ready wit, a buoyant sense of the possible and an unabashed love affair with Mars Bars (Oliver’s pick-me-up of choice), we watch Oliver come alive with the certainty of what is good for him and those he loves, what is not good for him and how to usher in the former while letting the latter go.

At no point is Oliver’s journey an easy one and yet as he hacks his way through the undergrowth of his overgrown, lonely and moribund life, we begin to see him come alive to the energising possibilities that await.

“All these thoughts flooded my brain like the endorphin rush you get from overindulging a sweet craving. My head was pinging with one realisation after another, so much so that it was too much to take in. When Andy called out again, telling me the fridge door was beeping and asking had I got the drinks yet, I had to snap myself back to the present. I rejoined Andy with the beers and changed the topic of conversation to when he would be free to do a photoshoot of the candles. yet I couldn’t stop thinking: was now the time to face my fears?” (P. 273)

What makes The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock so relatable is that it never sets its protagonist up as some overcoming hero.

He certainly doesn’t see himself that way and often talks himself out of things because his natural recourse is to go and re-embrace the status quo especially where more powerful personalities are concerned.

Rather Oliver is an everyman who slowly but surely, and with a pleasingly grounded sense of who he is, one which develops and grows in much the same way it would for anyone, comes to grips with what his life has been, what he can do to change it and the enlivening sense that his many resolutions can actually see the real world light of day, moving from paper-scrawled daydreams to something real and tangible.

And it honestly couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

By the time you reach the poignant end of The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock where the past and present finally reach some accommodation and usher in a hoped-for future, you feel like you’re as much Oliver’s BFF as his best friend Andy and as attuned to what matters to him as Edie, his new friend, business partner and maybe more, and certainly your happiness and joy in his progress is every bit as pronounced as it would be if you knew him in person.

The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock is wonderful – real, honest, funny, heartfelt, sugary and full of as much hope as it is loss and regret, a real and moving book that acknowledges the considerable obstacles that lie in the way of a happy and fulfilled life but which dares to believe they can be moved and lasting, life-changing change can result.

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One thought on “Book review: The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock by Jane Riley

  1. Yes, yes, yes – what a fabulous review of an absolutely ‘delightful’ novel! Love your phrasing ‘as he hacks his way through the undergrowth of his overgrown, lonely and moribund life’ – captures the essence beautifully.

    I found myself in geeky giggles (particularly at some of the visual humour) and needing a tissue for happy-tear dabbing at this novel’s conclusion. A wonderful read.

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