Left of the Bang by Claire Lowdon, book review: More bucks than bang

The clichés of London’s young, privileged thirty-somethings become relentless as they are predictable

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Left of the Bang focuses on the tangled lives of a small cast: Tamsin struggles with both a failing music career and ambivalence towards her impotent boyfriend, Callum. Callum is a classics teacher with a burgeoning interest in the developing bodies of his young pupils. Callum’s housemate Leah is a strikingly beautiful anorexic with sexual problems of her own.

They are bored and ripe for change when Chris, an old flame from Tamsin’s teenage years, unexpectedly returns to her life. Chris is a soldier who’d like to be more heroic and less ordinary than he really is. He swiftly becomes trapped by his own sense of chivalry in a disastrous relationship with Leah while Tamsin and he rediscover their feelings for each other.

Throughout, the third person narrator constantly comments on the action in a stagey, knowing tone. We’re constantly prompted to notice that the characters are universally superficial, self-serving, and predatory. They’re pushed along by a plot that focuses on a series of dinners and parties where the characters discuss themselves, their relationships, and their lives with tedious levels of self-absorption and lack of insight.

There are occasional flashes of acerbic wit: Callum’s friends endow him with “paracriminal prestige” merely because he comes from Glasgow. Later, he treats himself to a melancholy playlist that allows him to manufacture a satisfying sadness his pampered life gives him no other cause to experience. Tamsin’s mother, the scorned wife Roz, finds an unexpected second career giving public lectures on heartbreak, elucidating the “powerful, universal tropes” in her own marital breakup and indulging the “healing properties of revenge”.

But despite this humour, Lowdon’s sardonic narrator mocks its creations so entirely that it’s ultimately hard to care about them. This kind of satire works best when it exposes the respectable or speaks truth to power, but here the clichés of London’s young, privileged thirty-somethings and their “artisanal ravioli” are as relentless as they are predictable. “They were such types,” thinks Chris. In Left of the Bang self-awareness does not bring redemption, and despite the ending’s clever work in complicating a traditional marriage-plot, the reader is bound to agree with him.