The Dogme it was that died

<i>Dreaming of Strangers</i> by Matt Thorne (Weidenfeld &amp; Nicolson, &pound;9.99, 243pp)
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The Independent Culture

In his third novel, Matt Thorne appears to be gearing up for the no-frills literary movement he and Nicholas Blincoe are to co-sponsor this autumn when their anthology, All Hail the New Puritans, is published. Inspired by the Dogme 95 manifesto adhered to by Danish moviemakers Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and Sÿren Kragh-Jacobsen, Blincoe and Thorne are going back to basics. Since their aim is to strip narrative down to its bare essentials, they have insisted that contributors eschew such devices as flashbacks or dual narratives. Outlawed are the techniques that can turn straightforward narrative into exceptional fiction. Rhetoric? No, thank you. Stylistic flourishes? Uh-uh.

In his third novel, Matt Thorne appears to be gearing up for the no-frills literary movement he and Nicholas Blincoe are to co-sponsor this autumn when their anthology, All Hail the New Puritans, is published. Inspired by the Dogme 95 manifesto adhered to by Danish moviemakers Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg and Sÿren Kragh-Jacobsen, Blincoe and Thorne are going back to basics. Since their aim is to strip narrative down to its bare essentials, they have insisted that contributors eschew such devices as flashbacks or dual narratives. Outlawed are the techniques that can turn straightforward narrative into exceptional fiction. Rhetoric? No, thank you. Stylistic flourishes? Uh-uh.

Dreaming of Strangers clearly shows the influence of the New Puritan orthodoxy. The novel has been stripped down so far it's a car on bricks, a building without utilities, a screenplay lacking only the lines that say EXT. SOHO. DAY. It's got dialogue in spades, lots of it unattributed. But that's sort of the point, since the characters are pretty much interchangeable, possibly deliberately. It's got a pitch: girl (Becca) has affair with boy (Chris), but doesn't let on that he's renting her flat. Like Toby Litt's Corpsing, it's got a fantastically unlikely cab driver and, like Tim Lott's White City Blue, an unfeasibly likeable estate agent.

Chris, a film critic writing a book about romantic comedies, is looking for a flat. He takes the place that has a poster for Drugstore Cowboy on the wall. It belongs to Becca, a twentysomething film buff who fancies herself as a femme fatale.

Becca lives with her boyfriend, James, while Chris has split up with his girlfriend, Diana, an actress so shallow that she tapes herself crying over her break-up. The sound-stage is set for romance between Becca and Chris, aided and abetted by their mates, including the providential minicab driver (always on hand for a pick-up, because he never has any other fares), the estate agent, and a convenient mutual acquaintance, Scarlett.

Light as popcorn, Thorne's novel is packed with references to cinema, focusing on teen movies of the 1980s in which, for the most part, characters were also interchangeable. Given the depth of knowledge Thorne displays of this peculiar chapter in cinema history, it's difficult to be sure where his true intentions lie: in spoof or hommage. What is clear is that Thorne - whose first novel, Tourist, joined a sub-genre of entertainingly grim seaside-resort fiction that included Conrad Williams's Head Injuries and Chris Paling's Deserters - has sidestepped craftily into the buoyant seller's market for relationship novels. It's not a novel about the relationship between film and reality, after all, which we might have expected from the author of Tourist and Eight Minutes Idle, but the story of a relationship between two film buffs.

If only it were true that one could, as Becca does, go into HMV and buy videos of Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing and Eureka. If you're looking for The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink, however, you'll not be disappointed. It's a sign of the times, and Thorne is definitely in synch with the zeitgeist.

Nicholas Royle's new novel 'The Director's Cut' is published by Abacus in August

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