The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -


DON’T BE fooled by the nonemore-gen­tile name. William Sut­cliffe is a North Lon­don­bred Jewish boy. He was in the same year at Hab­er­dash­ers’ Aske’s School in El­stree as co­me­dian Sacha Baron Co­hen and his first novel in 1996, New Boy, was a near-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal mix of fact and fiction — in­clud­ing “real” de­tails (such as the Habs Serve And Obey motto) — which de­scribes a teenager’s en­try into an English in­de­pen­dent-school sixth form.

Con­tin­u­ing the nar­ra­tive thread, Sut­cliffe fol­lowed this with his best­known work so far, Are You Ex­pe­ri­enced? (1997), a pre-univer­sity, gap-year novel in which a group of young Brits travel to In­dia, while The Love Hexagon (2000) con­cerned the sex and ro­man­tic lives of six twen­tysome­thing Lon­don­ers.

Now, main­tain­ing the se­quence (give or take 2004’s Bad In­flu­ence, about a mis­cre­ant 10-year-old), comes What­ever Makes You Happy. Over 300 pages, Sut­cliffe tells the story of three sub­ur­ban moth­ers who have known each other since their re­spec­tive sons were ba­bies. They de­cide to spend a week with their ter­mi­nally ado­les­cent 34-year-old boys, to try to find out why they never write or call and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, why they have yet to marry or bear them grand­chil­dren.

Sut­cliffe’s style evokes the rever­ies of Tony Par­sons or Nick Hornby — not for him the chill­ing rem­i­nis­cences of, say, Paul Mor­ley’s Noth­ing, in which the au­thor grows up in the shadow of his fa­ther’s sui­cide.

The mood of What­ever Makes You Happy is light and hu­mor­ous, even when the go­ing gets rough. Of the three sons, Matt, the ed­i­tor of lads’ mag­a­zine BALLS!, whose in­ter­ests in­clude video games and bed­ding un­der-age mod­els, and Paul, who has se­cretly fa­thered a child with a les­bian cou­ple, are al­most car­toon-like char­ac­ters.

The third son, Daniel, a Jewish North Lon­doner who runs away to Ed­in­burgh (where Sut­cliffe now lives) in or­der to for­get his one true love, is more re­al­is­ti­cally drawn and thus the most com­pelling.

Un­for­tu­nately, the premise — three moth­ers land­ing on their grown-up sons’ doorsteps, hop­ing to sort out their messed-up love lives in a week — just doesn’t con­vince.

It might strike a chord with those par­ents who yearn for a closer re­la­tion­ship with their adult chil­dren, but its whim­si­cal com­edy may not res­onate with the younger, ec­stasy-dam­aged, rud­der­less T hi s L i f e gen­er­a­tion who are surely Sut­cliffe’s tar­get au­di­ence.

Paul Lester is writ­ing a bi­og­ra­phy of post-punk band Gang

Of Four

William Sut­cliffe

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