Books: Angel with an attitude

ME AND THE FAT MAN by Julie Myerson Fourth Estate pounds 14.99
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THIS IS A beautifully written, powerfully felt novel about sex, love and innocence. Amy is an orphaned, emotionally under-nourished waitress. As with Esther in Bleak House, you do not hear through her voice how lovely she is: you gather it from the reactions of other people. Again like Esther, Amy has a mysterious lost mum. But hers died on a Greek island, where Amy was born and lived as a kid. She remembers little about it and is now on her own in a dead-end marriage ("We were well-matched, each with our batches of disappointment in tow and nothing else going on"), trapped not only by a man she feels nothing for but also by the one dog in the world she dislikes. What she'd really like to do, she confides to various characters through the book, is breed dogs. Instead, she does blow-jobs (only with condoms, though) for money. The physicality of all this is brilliant, from snatched coffees in the restaurant kitchen to the textures of different male crotches.

Life begins to change when Harris, who says he knew and adored her drop-out mother, turns up in the restaurant. Harris is oldish, but Amy thinks she feels for him something she hasn't felt for, or from, anybody. Then she gets together with his porcine tenant, Gary, whom Harris says he looked after as a baby.

Babies and breeding begin, unobtrusively at first, to loom larger in Amy's emotionally freeze-dried world. As Harris tells her about her own early life, Amy begins to remember another baby, a little brother on that Greek island: the warm heavy feel of a baby in her own small arms. Amy gets pregnant by Gary, but begins to realise that the Harris-Gary set- up is not what it seems. Things rush to a taut sad climax which unravels the mystery of her early life, and her mother.

This is a really interesting, tender, exploratory novel. But I'm not sure Myerson goes deeply enough into the evil and hatred in the book: that character, whom Myerson has evoked but not evolved, fades away at the end. We never see in action the real relationship between Harris and Gary. Also, I've lived in Greece and with Greeks on and off all my life, and I don't know anyone with that background who could disguise a Greek accent, smoking habits, psyche and reflexes (sexual and other) deeply enough to pass, in a really close relationship, for an English person.

So I have reservations about some premises of the plot. But never mind, what does likelihood matter, where the writing is so sharp, original, and vivid? Plus Myerson writes about sex like an angel brought up in a brothel.