BOOK REVIEW / Headline to come into

English Settlement by D. J. Taylor Chatto, pounds 17.99; Strap to coem ino this psca heryeStrap to coem inStrap to coem ino this psca heryeStrap to coem in

Scott Marshall is a man with a phobia about his oesophagus. He doesn't trust it. It plays tricks on him. It wants him dead. You see, Mr Marshall has a problem when it comes to ingesting food. It tends to lodge in that alimentary canal between the pharynx and the stomach, threatening to asphyxiate him. Were he a sexual fetishist (of the lack of oxygen = heightened orgasm school of perversion), he would no doubt consider his constricted gullet something of a physiological bonus. But as he is a management consultant in the City, he simply regards it as a dangerous nuisance - and he recently suffered a moment of existential tristesse while crossing Blackfriars Bridge and chomping on a Mars Bar.

However, it's not just his oesophagus which is constricting Mr Marshall. His entire life is currently throttling him - he is having a bad attack of "dem thirtysomething blues''.

On the surface, his existence looks as shiny and enviable as some testosterone- charged sports coupe. Of course, behind the lustrous surface lurks a less glittery underside. It is 1990, the venal glory days of the City are well and truly dead, and Scott - like every other financial whizzkid - is wondering when the downsizing axe is going to fall on his neck. His private life is a jumbled mess. He has a dying father, a psychotic girlfriend, a dubious management consultancy with a very dubious fourth division football club, and an all-enveloping sense of cultural displacement.

For Scott Marshall - the narrator of D.J. Taylor's English Settlement - is an American in London (albeit one with an expatriate English mother who hasn't set foot on this island in years). And, like all expatriates, he suffers from a bad case of Mid-Atlanticism - of feeling precariously balanced bet- ween two cultures.

Mr Marshall also has another major predicament on his hands: he is the first American I've ever encountered in fiction who sounds like a supercilious by-product of the English public school system. Or, to be a little more blunt about it, he doesn't sound American at all. My credibility meter immediately entered the red zone when I encountered passages like this:

''My father was not altogether a subtle man, but in the matter of England he displayed a rare and wholly efficacious delicacy. Saturated in England and Englishness, albeit of a momentously specialized sort, we questioned the incidental detail of this grand obsession rather than its wider architecture".

David Mamet beware - when it comes to awesomely accurate renderings of American patois, this Taylor guy is the momentously specialised business. And note the street-smart idiom he employs when describing Scott's arrival at his place of business: "Reaching reception with its clutch of toothy, well-groomed traffic, I flick my KLS pass at a seneschal and waft by unimpeded".

Riveting. Worthy of James Ellroy. And, of course, when I was doing Latin during my New York schooldays, we were taught to greet all Central Park West doormen with the salutation: Salve, seneschal!(a seneschal for those of you who didn't benefit from a Yankee education, being "the steward or major domo of a medieval great house").

Then there's Mr Taylor's remarkable command of American socio-political nuance. Scott's racist southern grandfather voted Republican until Gold- water's defeat in 1964. How intriguing - as no southern redneck would have dared support the Republicans (the party of Lincoln, after all) until Ronnie Reagan came along. And then there's Scott's brother who sells timeshare apartments to movie stars in Montana. Benidorm-style timeshares in a state where the average movie-star ranch is 1500 acres? I love an author who does his research. As real estate faux-pas go, this is up there with: "And then I moved to London and rented a fabulous gothic castle in Cricklewood".

I could go on - because English Settlement is not simply riddled with fundamental inaccuracies; it is also street-dumb. Besides Mr Taylor's inability to make his narrator sound remotely American, the world Scott inhabits bears no relation to contemporary life.

If you set out to write a State of England/Between Two Cultures, novel, the least you owe your reader is accurate reportage when it comes to workaday detail and the rhythms of speech. But, like so much bad literary fiction these days, English Settlement has no connection to life- on-the-street; rather, it is set in a preposterous Biba of preening and all-pervasive smugness.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect