Too much style, not enough substance
Elena Seymenliyska finds Joseph Connolly’s latest satire lacking in bite
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.