The Old Joke, By Reina James

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The Independent Culture

The dialogue-constructed novels of Ivy Compton-Burnett came to mind with this novel, given how conversational it is, but that's perhaps a comparison by which James's work can only suffer.

It's rare that we read about the lives of older people in fiction, and James is to be commended both for writing about them, as well as getting a publisher interested. Alas, though, too much of this is simply about the reactions of the main character, Mim Lyons, to everyday things about her, and the writing wasn't strong enough to stop me wondering where it was all leading.

James begins well – Mim is a former actress, who gave it up when her second child came along, and is now, in late middle-age, being called for an audition for an ad about a special anti-ageing pill. The ad falls through, much to her relief, but she still has to deal with her spiteful, elderly father, her evasive, slacker forty-something son, and her cold and distant daughter. And then there's her husband, who's busy writing her a script in which she features as the elderly madame of a brothel. There's plenty of comic potential here, but without clear direction from James, it all gets a bit lost.