By Battersea Bridge, By Janet Davey

The pains of real life; and the difficult art of keeping afloat

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The Independent Culture

One of the recurring themes of Janet Davey's fiction is how major crises are routinely absorbed into everyday life without fanfare or resolution. The art of keeping afloat also lies at the heart of her fourth novel – a subtle and beautifully written book that succeeds at the difficult task of capturing how real life actually feels.

Anita Mostyn, the novel's unformed heroine, seems to be marking time until some hurt subsides. She may be in her mid-thirties, but she is still consumed by memories of a scratchy but privileged childhood.

Brought up by driven parents to feel second-rate to her brothers, she imagines that if they were to form a still life, then Barney and Mark would be "the perfect apples in the bowl", while she'd be "one of those splashes of paint you peer at, wondering, is it a leaf, a shadow on the tablecloth, a mistake?"

Anita's pedigree might be grand; her adult ambitions are decidedly small-scale. Living in a small flat just off Chelsea's Gunter Grove, Anita has worked in bars and galleries and gone along with a series of love affairs, largely out of politeness. But it's her quietly toxic relationship with Nick Halsey, a friend of her brother Mark, that has long poisoned her already fragile sense of self-worth.

As ever, Davey evades conventional time scales and narrative payoffs. Throughout the novel, opportunities are missed, romance is thwarted and characters depart on journeys that only ever prove incidental to their real quests. Early on in the book, Anita is approached by Laurence, an entrepreneur and unlovely admirer, who flies her out to Bulgaria to scout for holiday properties.

This memorable London novel manages to feel both classic and freshly –minted. There might be references to skinny jeans and lattes, but her portrait of the humourless Mostyn clan is redolent of another age. While Anita fights to resurface, Davey implies that she might be the one lucky enough to have got away. But as in real life, there are no tidy endings on hand as Anita contines to make for theshore.