Yesterday's Houses, by Mavis Cheek

The importance of a warm bathroom, with or without a warm man
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Cheek's bricks-and-mortar trip down memory lane opens in 1960s Kingston upon Thames. Invited to a party by a boy at the bus stop, the teenaged shopgirl Marianne finds herself in a new world of battered chaises longues and "shaggy-haired" students. Impressed by Teddington's jeunesse dorée, she is further seduced by the host's bathroom - a haven of hot radiators and aromatic scents. It's a room that Marianne will spend her life trying to recreate.

Unfashionably frank about the often talismanic power of property, Cheek often asks her female characters to choose between personal happiness and the security of marriage and fitted carpets. In this intimate, funny and defiant novel, she remembers all the places where we wash when romance and bank balance have conspired against us.

Cheek combines subversive comedy with shrewd social commentary. The trajectory of Marianne's life - each chapter marks a new address - mirrors the history of post-Beatles coupledom and suburban liberation. Married in her early twenties, Marianne envisages a life of upward mobility, babies and warm bathrooms. Instead, her husband whacks her with a hairbrush and botches the central heating. Husband number two, an artist, knows even less about DIY but at least provides Marianne with a longed-for daughter.

Somewhere between men and moves, it occurs to Marianne to take herself more seriously - not that Cheek's stylish heroines are in danger of going bra-less for long. Nurtured by her blue-stocking mother-in-law and a late degree, she exchanges dreams of domesticity for a successful writing career, temporarily isolating herself in the purdah of work and single-motherhood.

She proves reassuringly fallible. At 40, she falls in love with the Practical Poet - finally, a man who knows as much about cisterns as about female "plumbing". "Love and Sex and Loss and Pain" is what Marianne writes about: with the poet, she learns more than enough about all four.

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