Worth, By Jon Canter

An everyday tale of country folk, and risotto
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The Independent Culture

In Jon Canter's third novel, West End ad agency copywriter Richard meets City lawyer Sarah.

He's fresh from a relationship with Renate and enjoys infrequent friends-with-benefits bonking with Ros, while Sarah's in a long-term relationship with Mark. Still, their mutual attention lingers and, after a speedy getting-together scene (a clandestine meeting at the Wallace Collection, a stolen kiss), they are a "we"; all bliss and – much to Richard's laddish friends' amusement – broccoli. The new couple agrees that they've suffered enough of the tedious glamour of London's grind, and relocates to the countryside.

With Hay Cottage, The Lane, Worth (pop. 150), Suffolk, as their new address, they get down to the nitty-gritty of quality living: Richard illustrating a book about two pig detectives, Crackling and Lard; Sarah working for a homeless charity. Richard shifts from a man of hailing-taxis-and-waiters action to a routine of five-a-side football, fruit-picking, fishing and "reverse-commuting" for culture, and sooner than you can say "friendly neighbours", they're sharing mugs of coffee with Keith and Margaret.

It's an idyllic lifestyle, as they keep reminding themselves, even after a falling-out with Keith and Margaret during a conflict-ridden pasta with beetroot dinner. When Catherine moves in next door, the scene is nicely primed for relationship meddling and general mayhem.

I thought I'd had enough of the slew of novels about countrified city dwellers, but Canter's satirically self-conscious characters, conscientiously observing and over-observing their every thought and action, made me come back for one final, very funny whirl.

Even the peripheral characters, as cartoony as they are, keep Canter's narrative on target. These include a stuffy television presenter who's so inept at social interaction that when he gives a friend advice, it comes out as if he were delivering one of his on-air addresses, complete with a closing "Thank you". And then there's the "aggressive-aggressive" Renate, who curbs her time in the country "by leaving on Saturday morning to avoid the traffic then returning on Sunday morning to avoid the traffic, making it clear that what she wanted to avoid was the country: "Nature didn't concern her. She had no garden; the one window box she owned was an artwork, containing plastic babies in soil."

In Canter's wickedly capable hands, house cleaning becomes an act of anger ("I fssssted foam on to the windows, macing their transparent faces"), and stirring risotto becomes an act of self-defence. He's got his finger just as firmly on the pulse of office life: the YouTube time-wasting; the assistant who's shagging the boss; the brain-numbing meetings, the petty politics, the receptionist who finally, fabulously, loses it. As an advertisement for either urban or rural living among self-satisfied characters, Worth is a toe-curling horror story; as a cheeky and well-directed poke in said characters' eyes, it's a winner.

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