Books: Tinkling tea cups and toxic waste

Twentysomething love in London may be their theme, but Anita Brookner's a genius, and A A Gill is pure filth

Starcrossed

by A A Gill

Doubleday pounds 9.99

Since Adrian Gill is best known for his restaurant reviews - in another Sunday paper - you might expect him to know a thing or two about taste. He does not. is his second novel, and it is every bit as salacious as his first, a comic orgy in which nothing is sacred and everything very much up for grabs.

The basic premise will sound unnervingly familiar: John Dart is a poetic sort of chap who works in a bookshop and ekes out a modest existence; Lee Montana is a film star, the most famous woman on the planet; and their worlds collide, they fall in love, they juggle the different demands of their two quite disparate lives. But Gill's characters are wildly unlike Notting Hill's romantic leads, and their story reverberates with low humour and lurid, extravagant sex. The narrative is stuffed with satirical jokes at the expense of luvvies, artists and social butterflies, and every page explodes with the gaudy colours of exotic metaphor.

The best of the writing is too toxic to quote in a review. The prose, though strewn with ordure, rattles along, racking up plenty of spicy images in the process. At one point John and Lee pay a visit to a motorway service station. There can't be many people who don't know what a service station is like, but Gill deconstructs the experience with noisome precision, and a car park off the M25 is transformed into a freakshow, a miniature of all the world's evils, a reeking modern Inferno.

This kind of thing happens a lot. It would be hard not to read a certain amount of snobbery into Gill's ritual disembowelling of banalities, but he takes swipes at people of all classes and backgrounds, skewering a succession of familiar gargoyles with fearless vigour. He likens working folk to the Gadarene swine, but there's really no one in the novel who escapes untouched by rootling bestiality: no act or individual is too small to be worth spiking.

In other words, Gill has done it again. His debut, Sap Rising, was pure filth. is much the same. But it is also sentimental, affecting and peculiarly erudite, and the central couple prove sympathetic, even if their urgent and frequent couplings do not. Some of the more pseudo- philosophical moments feel redundant. "Life isn't a game of bridge," says a character who is meant to be something of a sage, "where you deal cards and play a neat hand and either win or lose and then shuffle." This scarcely seems a revelation. Yet for the most part Gill steers clear of the predictable, the hackneyed, and the tedious. is not a book to be given to anyone at risk of having a seizure, but it's Technicolor, tub-thumping seasonable fun.

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