Too much style, not enough sub­stance

Elena Sey­men­liyska finds Joseph Con­nolly’s lat­est satire lack­ing in bite

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Books -

Terence is a man in his mid-40s who calls Terence Con­ran his hero: he loves a good piece of de­sign, you see, whether it’s a Charles Eames chair or a Luger hand­gun, so long as it has style. But Terence’s wife, Amy, doesn’t even know who Eames is. She thinks her hus­band ad­mires Con­ran only be­cause they share the same name, but then she be­lit­tles so much that he cares for. The only thing Amy does care about is their son, Alexander, who at 10 is some­thing of a celebrity, his face in all the mag­a­zines and gag­gles of scream­ing girls out­side his door. Tend­ing to Alexander’s style – sig­na­ture look, bookings, pos­si­ble record­ing deal and film con­tract – has trans­formed Amy’s life. Mean­while, their daugh­ter, Lizzie, doesn’t get a look-in, re­treat­ing be­hind cur­tains of hair to a world of self-loathing and self-harm. The only peo­ple to no­tice are Terence and Amy’s friends Sylvia and Mike, but then they live in a house with a Dralon sofa and re­pro­duc­tion Con­sta­bles on the walls, so what do they know? In any case, they are just as daz­zled by Alexander’s fame as ev­ery­one else, not least Dolly and Damien, whose son Kevin is in Alexander’s class. Dolly should know: she is well up on all them celebri­ties, she knows her Vic­to­ria from her Ch­eryl, and now she can add Amy to her pan­theon of style. Joseph Con­nolly’s 13th novel is a satire on that well­worn mo­tif, our celebri­ty­ob­sessed age, with broad swipes at the in­dus­try be­hind child star­dom and the self­ag­gran­dis­ing par­ents that make it pos­si­ble. It is writ­ten in Con­nolly’s trade­mark style, a first-per­son, present-tense in­te­rior mono­logue that ren­ders the minu­tiae of men­tal pro­cess­ing in all its dead-ends, se­nior mo­ments and lost trains of thought. It was used to bril­liant ef­fect in Love Is Strange (2005) and Jack the Lad and Bloody Mary (2007), cre­at­ing em­pa­thy even for a sadis­tic Fifties pa­ter­fa­mil­ias or a For­ties back­street abor­tion­ist. But pushy mums, de­sign junkies and work­ing-class chavs make easy tar­gets, and Style is a satire with no sub­stance. Amy, Terence and Dolly are sup­posed to in­habit mod­ern-day Bri­tain, but their con­cerns are very last cen­tury, while Alexander is a pin-up with no prece­dent. Nei­ther celeb baby, boy­ban­der, or re­al­ity TV star, he stretches the ca­pac­ity to sus­pend dis­be­lief to break­ing point. There are some good bits: a night­mare din­ner in the style of Abigail’s Party, pithy re­marks on the id­iocy of cof­fee shops, a spec­tac­u­lar mur­der of a Saari­nen ta­ble, circa 1957. But none of it adds up to enough to merit the bite. It’s all past its sell-by date, a lit­tle bit Nineties, so lacks the es­sen­tial top­i­cal­ity – that rapier-like point – of satire that hits the tar­get.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.