Books: Friends in the north
Noah, Noah by Paul Wilson Granta, pounds 15.99, 342pp; Christopher Hawtree applauds a small-town hero
Saturday 04 September 1999
To put it like that suggests that Paul Wilson is a dour spirit. Far from it. There is a humour all his own to these accounts of delicate, resilient spirits at the mercy of small-town sharpsters and officials. His eye for the bizarre never thwarts human sympathy, and in Noah, Noah he has produced his finest work yet - the equal of Graham Swift at his best.
An ingenious construction in which reality and even grimmer fantasy intertwine, it carries the reader along at a clip, all the while making one eager to tease out its subtleties. This novel defies summary but makes for a brilliant panorama of postwar England as seen by former orphan Noah (thus christened, for it was a religious institution where the foundling fetched up).
Noah Brindle has been in charge of a fading community centre on a grim Lancashire estate for a couple of decades. His lunchtimes are spent at a nearby cafe whose forthright female owner duly embraces vegetarianism and gives vent to hopes and dreams matched by Noah's creation of a character called Mr George.
Before the war, Mr George arrived from Scotland by train. He exchanged clothes with a local entrepreneur and, attired in a white dinner-jacket, was greeted by the townsfolk as a mover and shaker. In time, he turned his benefactor's home into a liberally-run refuge for orphans which - after a Dartington approach to matters sexual - falls foul of Church authorities.
There is many a hard-luck story in both strands of the novel. But it is managed with such aplomb that, for all its cunningly delayed reversals, Noah, Noah never loses a certain exhilaration and an eye for plausible outrageousness: "Noah had written to the Council eighteen months ago asking for a grant for the roof to be repaired, having been refused funds by the trustees. Four months later, he got a letter back saying that he could have a basketball court marked out in the yard as part of the Council's Basketball Development Strategy. Noah had taken what he was offered..."
Suspension of disbelief is never punctured, even when one is asked to credit the antics of a tame bear which acts as a football mascot (his reported death stirs the heart). Paul Wilson, who displays far more insight into human nature than his namesake, has one marvelling at the way that - without force - his stories merge. They take in such events as the moon landing, with Aldrin and Armstrong as faintly preposterous bystanders at events of far greater consequence.
Here is that rare thing: a novel certain to be on people's lips right now, and around long after the lesser Paul Wilson has shuffled from the scene to take comfort in such banalities as "massage your eyebrows" and "wear Donald Duck underpants". For the price of those gaudy knickers, Noah, Noah offers so much more.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 3 Former East 17 frontman Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
- 4 The inventor of the Facebook 'like' button says he never made a 'dislike' button because he feared the 'unfortunate consequences'
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
James Blunt finally admits the truth: 'You're Beautiful' is annoying
Doctor Who, Flatline - review: Clara isn’t half bad as the Time Lord
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage
Lord Freud hangs on as MPs of all parties 'call for his head' over disability comments