Faded roses and a dash of Angostura bitters

High Anglicanism in Hammersmith? Tweeds in Metroland? The aga saga has made it to the city lights. A Pure Clear Light by Madeleine St John Fourth Estate, pounds 12.99

In 1993 Madeleine St John published a first novel of such charm than any succesor was bound to provoke comments on "the hurdle of the second novel". The Women in Black was set in a 1950s Sydney department store, and its heroines were the uniformed sales staff of that beautifully evoked emporium. For A Pure Clear Light, St John, an Australian now living in London, leaves behind the certainties of that hierarchical and more innocent world for present-day Hammersmith and a middle-class cast with jobs as nebulous as their characters.

In this sly take on English middlebrow fiction, they are as smooth as mannequins who, sensing they are not quite real, converse in dialogue like that of middle-class sitcom, and aspire to be the people in some churchy, risque novel. Flora, a lapsed Catholic, embraces High Anglicanism, a vicar and his wife have a go at being written by Barbara Pym, and handsome twins on leave from a Mary Wesley drop in.

Flora, who has "gone into business with a woman friend importing and selling third world textiles" has been married for 15 years to Simon, a director of TV drama who once dreamed of being "the Jean Renoir de nos jours." These are people who shop at "Horrids" and holiday in gites in the Perigord and use French phrases for emphasis. Their three "bright and beautiful" children are at fee-paying schools. They drink gin in the evenings and it cheers rather than depresses them, and yet they feel something is missing. Simon, who fears the "naffery" of Flora's abandoned faith concedes she may fill the void by becoming an Anglican: "Further than that I'm not prepared to go. Honestly, Flora. I mean it, the Pope and Days of Obligation and plastic Virgin Marys with light bulbs inside them..." Flora laughs and thinks, yes, "it was naff all right", but that is not the whole story, and neither of them wishes to go any deeper. Meanwhile, the vicar's wife, assessing Flora as an "English rose, slightly faded" in "good tweeds" surmises that she will come up with "some absolutely first-rate jumble".

This must be the first time "good tweeds" have had an outing since the heyday of Penguin Crime, and it's nice to see them back. Simon, though, is having an affair with Gillian, a blonde accountant, and is torn between his desire to be with her and his love for Flora and the children who he, perforce, neglects.

The novel is circular in shape, opening as Simon and Gillian are spotted in a brasserie by one of Flora's friends, retracing their affair and concluding with its end. Rose Macauley comes to mind, too, as the spiritual concerns surface from the insouciant prose. This is a stylish clearing of the fence, and if it does not touch the heart as poignantly as the debut, its skill and humour make one anticipate the next one with pleasure.

Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor