Soho, by Keith Waterhouse

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The Independent Culture

Set in contemporary Soho, with its Starbucks outlets and "chrome" bars, Keith Waterhouse's 13th novel is an elegy to a vanished age of golden-hearted tarts and sour-mouthed publicans.

Alex Singer is fresh off a rhubarb lorry from Leeds in search of his girlfriend. Heading to Soho, he finds himself in the fuggy warmth of the New Kismet, chatting to a "model" called Jenny. Over the next 24 hours, as Alex is transformed from newcomer to habitué, Waterhouse treats us to some well-choreographed slapstick, a spot of local history, and a tour of the neighbourhood's colourful "human traffic". The well drawn, if clichéd, bunch include Brendan "Bottoms Up!" Barton (a TV presenter), Mable, a pugnacious landlady (Muriel Belcher "without the personality") and a transvestite called Christine. It soon occurs to Alex that "So-oh" is not so much a location as a state of mind. The romance of sleaze can wear thin, as can the myth of Soho, but Waterhouse's faith in the whole package is unshakeable. For a full appreciation of the novel, it probably helps to be a post-menopausal male with a soft spot for "knockers like chapel hat-pegs".