Linger Awhile, by Russell Hoban

A tale of desire in old age, and of the vampires who rise to service it
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

In the acknowledgements in his new novel, Russell Hoban admits he finds it "impossible to stop writing", and apologises to his publisher for this "addiction". It's a characteristically mischievous comment from this sprightly octogenarian, who has produced eight novels in the past 10 years, and several books for children.

In keeping with these recent excursions, Linger Awhile is an adult fairy tale, an outrageous and genial fantasy of love, sex, and death in contemporary London. It features recurring characters and comes peppered with the author's usual miscellany of references, here ranging from Gene Autry to AE Housman to the Algerian singer Souad Massi.

Irving Goodman is a typical Hoban protagonist, an elderly gent of creative bent, with a typical Hoban dilemma: in his 83rd year he has developed a passion for a dead 1950s Hollywood starlet, Justine Trimble. He descends into deepest Soho to visit Istvan Fallok, Hoban's long-time Mr Fixit, and asks him to bring the 25-year-old Justine back to life.

Fallok does accomplish his Frankensteinian task, through a suitably barmy process involving home-cooked primordial soup and "visual DNA", but unfortunately the reconstituted Justine is as monochrome as the movie from which she was lifted, Last Stage to El Paso - and the only way to turn her grey cheeks Technicolor is through regular draughts of human blood. She's more than happy to trade sexual favours for a transfusion, and Fallok sends her out to stalk the streets of London for prey.

Hoban revels in the clichés his vampire cowgirl affords him, introducing a poetry-loving detective to ponder the corpses, and a medical examiner to deliver the hammier-than-Hammer line, "There is absolutely no blood in this body, and look at those bite marks on the neck."

Despite the addition of a second Justine, accidentally cross-cloned with toad DNA, and some traditional stake-through-the-heart action, generic thrills are not really what Hoban is about. Goodman recoils from Justine and finds a healthier companion in Grace Kowalski.

Linger Awhile is slim enough to burn through in an evening, but it is one of Hoban's most successful attempts to juggle his various preoccupations - most importantly, the erotic life of the elderly, and how to cope with the loss of love. Nobody can mix the philosophical with the downright cheesy like he can.

Comments