To Heaven by Water, By Justin Cartwright

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The Independent Culture

Ah, the contradictions of the middle- class novel: anti-intellectual, yet full of references to pre-Raphaelites, Shakespeare and high modernists; liberal, yet fearful of badly dressed, overweight, potentially violent proles; so wrong in its sexual politics ("Jenni's very short dress... a sort of provocation rather than a garment"), yet so right about family.

Silver fox David Cross is a middle-aged war correspondent who used to be on TV. His unfaithful wife has just died, which means he can innocently indulge his fondness for his perfect, baby-hungry daughter-in-law, Rosalie, while his lawyer son is off bonking a junior in the office. Meanwhile, David's daughter Lucy is being harassed by her rugby-playing ex-boyfriend.

Justin Cartwright has interesting things to say about getting older and a sense of alienation from society, but his characters' self-examination is shallow. David doesn't seem troubled by his night of passion with Rosalie, not even when she turns up pregnant soon after. But that's the middle classes for you: keeping it in the family.