Love Is Strange, by Joseph Connolly

A parable of England in decline? Or just a bit of hanky-spanky?

It was always the same: dominatrices, nasty nuns, obliging tarts, licentious priests, public-school discipline and all sorts of how's-your-father. The smartly-dressed cove was always different. The subject matter was always the same. Time passed, I crawled up the ladder and had no more trouble of that sort. Then comes this novel.

Clifford Coyle is a dreary little drip we first encounter, as he lies dying, on his wedding day. We flash back to his childhood where prissy Cliff spends his time doing jigsaws, listening to Cliff (Richard) and trying to avoid the beastly boys at school. Home is a catalogue of brand names: Spontex, Dairy Box , Tizer, Brylcreem, Airfix, TCP, Dinky and Nesquik. Terrible things, as is so often the way, go on beneath the suburban veneer.

Clifford's father falls off the roof and his sister Annette is sent to a convent of chastisement in Ireland, where there's much flogging and spanking and scrubbing down in cold showers and a gang-rape, (detailed with unpleasant enthusiasm) by priests. Maybe it's symbolic?

Annette returns to England and becomes a dominatrix madam while her mother, previously a meek housewife, takes a gangster-pimp lover and throws herself into the sex industry. Clifford, incestuously enslaved to mother and sister, tricks an Irish virgin into a false marriage, starts on his own slide downhill and is soon augmenting his earnings as a tailor with whore's gold. Could it be a portrait of England in decline, or just Joseph Connolly, like the coves in reception, getting his rocks off? Perhaps it's all a parody.

The style is distinctly odd. Each main character gets a chance to talk in the first person, but the narrative often switches to the third. The tenses are all over the place. The blurb talks of darkly English humour, but it would, wouldn't it? There are heavily engineered comic scenes, but grubby rather than dark. Is it an aberration? They speak highly of Connolly's other stuff, and around town he's considered the prince of good fellows, so perhaps it is.

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