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
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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
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.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices