Edward Trencom's Nose, by Giles Milton

Phwoar! Get that muslin off, love
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The Independent Culture

Edward Trencom finds the Stilton cheese he is presented with at the end of his apprenticeship with the family firm a more sensual experience than the loss of his virginty on his wedding night: "His nose seemed to be growing, expanding, as it allowed the Stilton's odour to brush past millions of hairs and pores. Within seconds Edward felt himself transformed: he could smell the cheese in his throat, his mouth, his lungs, his whole body."

There are even erotic overtones to the way he opens his present: "He removed the thin muslin and allowed it to fall gently to the floor. He then stood back a moment to admire her extraordinary skin before bringing his nose up to a small crack in the surface. Then, gingerly, he reached for his knife and positioned it inside the crack. Pausing for a second he thrust it deep into the Stilton's heart. Suddenly there was an explosion of scents and smells that sent Edward reeling backwards."

This is not a novel of sexual pathology, however. Edward is not of our universe, but we are not of his either. Edward Trencom is the eighth generation of his family to keep a cheese shop in the City of London and he lives in Streatham. It is 1969, but not our 1969, not our Streatham, not our City of London, but a world of pure fiction which allows Giles Milton to run out his otherwise improbable plot. So it does not matter that the Great Fire of London occurred a day later in Edward's world than it did in ours, or that double-action revolvers were available a couple of decades earlier there than they were here. It is a harmless world. If fictional universes were permeable with each other, Edward Trencom would be more likely to bank with Gringotts than to shop at Angela Carter's Magic Toyshop.

As well as a cheese shop, Edward has inherited the family nose. It seems to be at the centre of a strange destiny which has lured almost every generation of his direct ancestors to the Aegean, where they have met a violent death. Those who stayed home died violently too, and when Edward finds he is being spied on by foreign agents he begins to research his family history.

Edward is a chap, with the traditonal cold blood and stiff upper lip, but his chapness is without irony. There is no irony to be found in the novel at all, a serious limitation for an author to impose on himself when writing comic fiction. Giles Milton is a successful writer of non-fiction (Nathaniel's Nutmeg and White Gold, about the spice trade and the slave trade respectively) but this is his first novel and he falls into the beginner's trap of distinguishing his characters through physical grotesquerie such as obesity and dandruff, rather than equipping them with personalities. This is a novel for readers who dislike surprises, and since that is a large public it ought to be an enormous success.

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