We are All Made of Glue, By Marina Lewycka

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The Independent Culture

The madcap world of Marina Lewycka is now familiar to millions of readers as a kind of formula. An engagingly quirky narrator takes us on a journey in which serious themes such as family quarrels, age, war and genocide are given a comic gloss. It more or less ends well. Fans of Woody Allen movies have long been familiar with this kind of thing, but Lewycka's debut, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, became the British equivalent. After her Two Caravans, We are All Made of Glue continues the themes of love, hate and odd titles. Georgie, enraged by her husband's indifference and lonely after swapping Leeds for London, strikes up a friendship with her ancient, rancid Jewish neighbour Mrs Shapiro.

Living alone in a large, filthy, posh house, with several stinking cats for company and an obsession with great Russian composers, the old woman is more vulnerable than she initially appears. A gorgeously funny creation, with her high heels, rouge, fibs and flirtations, she is increasingly preyed upon by a sinister social worker in cahoots with two estate agents, Wolfe and Diabello. Georgie, a would-be Mills & Boon writer, is fascinated by Mrs Shapiro's romantic stories about her adored Artem, and how he escaped the Holocaust, yet succumbs to the devilishly sexy Diabello. "You must be more elegant if you will catch a man," Mrs Shapiro tells her before she slip and goes to hospital, but crotchless red knickers and bondage in Velcro isn't presumably what she had in mind.

The narrator's day job, sub-editing a magazine about adhesives, gives the novel its title and its theme. What binds people together, and how painful is it to be ripped apart? With her son surfing end-of the-world websites and her husband indulging in some sticky business of his own, the first half of the novel promises a highly enjoyable black comedy. But Lewycka has ambitions to include the political as well as the personal, and it is here that her novel threatens to become unstuck.

There is a mystery about Mrs Shapiro that discoveries of old letters and photographs reveals. What happened to Artem? A middle-aged man claims Mrs Shapiro is an impostor. Mr Ali, the Python-esque handyman, turns out to be from the same area of Palestine that some photographs of a lovely woman called Naomi came from. Tales of Jewish suffering in Eastern Europe are mirrored by the violent seizure of land from the Palestinians.

Polymerisation, the key to adhesion, is when "a single molecule... grabs onto two other similar molecules on each side to make a long chain," Georgie tells us. For as long as her story sticks to individual characters and events, Lewycka's novel is a pleasure, written with eccentricity and zest.

Yet once it goes off into international politics it stumbles. The Ukrainian Holocaust was woven into the back-story of the first novel but this is crudely stuck on to the plot. Consequently, the second half increasingly detracts from the fun.

"Sticking things. It's a form of art," Georgie tells her husband, meaningfully. There is, predictably, no promised land; however, it's a mark of this author's charm that she manages to make us believe they will have a better future together.

Amanda Craig's novel 'Hearts and Minds' is published by Little, Brown

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