Faber & Faber, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897

Hope for Newborns, By Rodge Glass

There's nothing funny about Rodge Glass's excellent 'comic' novel

At Hay, Ian McEwan said he hated comic novels: "It's like being wrestled to the ground and tickled, being forced to laugh." Even worse, surely, if a comic novel is not funny: in which case, is it still a comic novel? Faber clearly thinks Rodge Glass is a comic novelist (the front-cover quote calls him "A very good comic writer"), but Hope for Newborns, his second novel, is not really funny. But Faber's problem is obvious: it's hard to know what else to call it, or how to categorise its author.

The narrator is Lewis Passman, a young man dividing his time between recruitment consultancy, his father's barber shop and his online relationship with the mysterious, alluring Christy, with whom he once had a teenage fumble that remains the closest he has come to sex. The Victory Barber Shop, opened by Lewis's Jewish grandfather in central Manchester after the boat supposedly taking him to New York docked in Hull, is being targeted (somewhat implausibly) by anti-war protesters objecting to its proud support for Empire, the Army, our boys in Iraq.

Lewis's brothers Chuck and Philip fly in from Texas and Toronto for their mother's 50th birthday party, which she attends in silence, as she performs every act since suffering a breakdown eight years previously. Lewis, meanwhile, is being bullied by Christy into leading a more ethical life and then lured into breaking the law to procure funds for her foundlings' charity that gives the book its title. Lewis, as naïve as a newborn himself, falls under Christy's spell, and she becomes the focus of his long-deferred dreams of escape.

The novel is set in Manchester, but place is unimportant. Apart from naming the city, and pinpointing the Northern Quarter on two occasions, there's very little sense of Manchester at all. A throwaway snatch of dialogue offers the oft-repeated, questionable sentiment that the IRA did the city a favour by bombing it.

But just as Hope for Newborns is not really a comic novel, nor is it a novel about place. It's about family, responsibility, culture and community. Glass's characterisation is excellent and there is a certain grim pleasure in his descriptions of the awful building in which Lewis and some other lonely men rent flats: "We each suspected everybody else's [life] was as miserable as our own."

Nicholas Royle's anthology '68: New Stories From Children of the Revolution' is published by Salt

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
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.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits