Bantam, £12.99, 321pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Boy Who Fell to Earth, By Kathy Lette

The first three pages of this novel about Lucy, a 30-plus middle class mother coping alone with an autistic child, are so badly written and generally over-the-top that any casual reader might be inclined to stop there. This would be a mistake. For Kathy Lette soon settles into producing what she does best: a succession of often scabrous one-liners. A few are dire but most are excellent. How about "The only hard knocks he'd ever taken had been whilst playing polo", or "Divorce is like a haemorrhoid: in the end, every arsehole gets one"? Or even "A journey of self-discovery starts with a single step. But so does falling down a flight of stairs"?

Yet finally there are too many of them. It is as if someone describing the symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome, as here, is also suffering from a variant of Tourette's Disorder, necessitating a compulsive wisecrack every other minute. Even Oscar Wilde would occasionally bore dinner guests with too many epigrams. In this novel everyone is cracking jokes, not just the narrator but also her mother, her sister and her pompous ex-husband.

Only Merlin, the much put-upon son with so many difficulties, is spared from the humour treadmill. He also has one-liners, but they are haunting rather than comic in their mixture of poetry and pedantry, insight and ignorance. And they do succeed in conveying the different world-view of someone whose quirky perceptions fail to mesh with the life going on around. The author has personal experience of this condition and has put it to good use, turning what could have been yet another misery memoir into something so much livelier, however occasionally exhausting.

The overall plot, where ambitious, no-good husband tries to effect a politically advantageous reconciliation with his rightly furious ex-wife, is less important than the moments in between. So it does not really matter that all those teachers and social workers concerned with Merlin invariably come over as insensitive idiots or that Lucy's various attempts at courtship after separation follow a repetitive pattern of disaster.

This is writing that excels in one-off scenes, as when Merlin is nearly seduced by a paedophile in the park because the poor boy has been told so often about the importance of always being polite to others.

The whole story ends on an unconvincing high, but there are many good moments before, albeit delivered at a pace hectic enough to make even Groucho Marx seem something like an elective mute.

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms