Bantam, £12.99, 321pp. £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Boy Who Fell to Earth, By Kathy Lette
Friday 02 March 2012
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.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Technology company Alibaba posts job advert asking for 'stunning' women with qualities of adult film actress Sora Aoi
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 3 'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians
- 4 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner as Jubilee and Jean Grey
American Horror Story season 5: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga
Jorge Luis Borges fan brings his infinite library to life online
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils