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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice