BOOK REVIEW / Adam and Natalie plastered in Paris: 'Adam's Wish' - Paul Micou: Bantam, 14.99 pounds

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The Independent Culture
STYLISTICALLY, Paul Micou is not an ambitious writer. He has found a form with which he is comfortable - the gentle, playful, undemanding comic novel - and seems perfectly happy to work within its narrow parameters. Unlike the greates comic writing, he does not seek to add a cutting edge to his humour; there is no satirical bite, no counterpoint to the swirling frivolity. There is no laughter in the dark. Rather, it's all brightness and light.

Since settling in London in 1988 (he was born in California), Micou has, startlingly, published six novels, of which easily the best is his last offering, The Last Word. It has a compelling central subject, asking why ordinary Americans, their heads full of clumsy utopian yearnings, are so eager to fall into the welcoming arms of hysterical evangelists, TV doctors, occultists, metaphysicians, gnarled dieticians and other assorted cranks. It is witty and graceful; it is buoyant and full of a promise which, sadly, has not entirely spilled over into Adam's Wish.

Adam Gosse, a young, lonely, not very bright, not very successful, Anglo-Belgian lawyer longs to get married. This, quaintly enough, is his consuming 'wish'. At a friend's wedding in rural France, he meets Natalie, a beautiful, sexy, moderately intelligent actress and agrees to drive her to Paris where, to his infinite delight, they are sucked into a hectic round of film previews, parties, and bright champagne evenings.

Astonished by the abrupt change in his fortunes, Adam is simultaneously repelled and enchanted by the world of violent affectation and slender achievement in which he finds himself. Slowly, and with excusable predictability, he begins to fall in love with Natalie. But she, at all times, remains impenetrably remote from him - languidly elsewhere, tantalisingly out of reach. Like the eternally thwarted lovers on Keats's Grecian Urn, Micou locates happiness in the search for love rather than in its realisation; in the dream of desire, not in its culmination.

Although always measured and charming, there is nothing you would call exuberant in this book. It gives the unfortunate impression of having been written in a hurry, in an eagerness of completion. The prose is clipped and pithy; the narrative voice mocking and archly knowing. The ending, with Natalie flying away to make a film in Yugoslavia, is so rushed and unsatisfactory that it's almost as if Micou suddenly lost interest in his own story.

Similarly, the characters - a dim-witted aristocrat, a homophobic writer and a muscular, self-regarding American actor - seem unloved by their creator. They are too obviously stereotypes, and they never hurry or flow with the energies and currents of life.