Quercus £18.99 . Order for £15.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Boys and Girls by Joseph Connolly - book review: 'Overlong portrait of men and women behaving badly'
Monday 28 April 2014
How much of this 430-word review should I devote to saying that this 440-page novel is too long? Joseph Connolly has published 11 previous novels and, as the author of a biography of PG Wodehouse, is a connoisseur of English comedy. However, when one character in Girls and Boys mentions the late Kingsley Amis ("Fine writer, Old Amis, I mean, not the young shit") I remember that Amis père was allegedly prone to sending his son's novels "cartwheeling across the room." I'd have gladly done similar with this book.
It would have been half its heart-sinking length without the bumbling, stream-of-consciousness narration. "I rather think, you know – looking back on what my dear little Susie Q would insist upon always referring to as the 'Day of Days' (dear oh dear oh dear)… yes, looking back on it all now from the fairly safe perspective of a good bit of water having flowed under the, um…" In isolation, this example of Beckett doing Blandings makes little sense. Among other congested passages, it makes torturous reading.
When Susan grows dissatisfied with Alan, her feckless, middle-aged husband, she invites an elderly publishing mogul, nicknamed "Black", to join them in a three-way marriage. Initially, the men aren't keen but they hit it off and, after a drunken priest performs the illegal second wedding, live together in west London, along with the original couple's teenage daughter, Amanda. Life goes swimmingly until inevitable and unexpected problems occur. Whether this amounts to more than a cartoon of sex, sloth and privilege is difficult to gauge. "You have to machete your way through a throttling overgrowth," says Black and the same applies to Connolly's prose.
Is it worth the machete? The narrative doesn't lack incident, with murder, rape, teenage angst. Amanda's story is occasionally poignant but it's often buried by a voice that's marked by the generic "like", "so" and interrogative tone which fogeys associate with teenagers. Meta-fictional flourishes intrigue, as when Black describes his desire to write books: "I'm not at all sure I did, really want to write them. I wanted to have written them…" The men express disturbing tastes. "Fuckish," they say of a group of schoolgirls. Later, Alan pays prostitutes to dress up in blazers and gingham.
"We're all of us boys and girls, whatever our ages," says Black. You might consider this an enlightened take on human frailty, or an excuse to be selfish and irresponsible, but I find it unedifying and trivial. The best thing about finishing this novel is the chance to warn you against starting it.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
- 5 Rashida Jones speaks out against male-centric porn saying 'women should have sex and feel good about it'
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
25 years of Disney: How Darth Vader, Iron Man, Elsa and Pixar's geniuses helped the company conquer the world (again)
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
King Abdullah dead: We can't afford not to hold Saudi Arabia's royals to account