Take a ride through suburbia

Jason Cowley finds forgiveness and reconciliation in an English dormitory town

The Prisoner of Meadow Bank

by Miles Gibson

Sinclair Stevenson, pounds 9.99

In a moving address at the memorial service to his friend Russell Harty, Alan Bennett said that Harty "understood that most people were prisoners in their lives and want releasing". Miles Gibson seems to have a similar understanding: for all the characters in his new novel of comic pessimism are, in their differing ways, trapped in the "everydayness" of their own lives, They are prisoners, Gibson says, because they have allowed routine and familiarity to dim their sense of wonder, and destroy their capacity for hope.

One person seeking release is Holly Walker, the self-styled prisoner of Meadow Bank. She is 35, fat, lazy and hopelessly bored, Her life amounts to little more than gossipy coffee mornings, and empty evenings spent gorging on junk food as she watches television. It's a lifestyle with which her husband, Jack, is utterly content. He constantly tells us how happy he is and how much he loves his wife, and we struggle to believe him.

Holly's age is significant because one morning, precisely midway through the journey of her life and quite without warning, she wakes to find herself lost in a "dark wood" - only this wood is a suburban cul-de-sac in an unnamed English dormitory town, Shamed by a sudden realisation of the awful littleness of her daily life, she goes on a crash diet, takes a lover and breaks with her husband Although the affair is not a success, Holly is changed by it. In the end, she gets everything she wants, but one stlll wonders if she were actually happier when inside the prison.

's weakness is that the characters all speak with the unmistakably quirky voice of the author. It's an attractive voice but, like a local dialect, everyone has it. The narrative unfurls in a chain of interconnecting monologues, punctuated by Gibson's omniscient interruptions; yet it's hard sometimes to work out who is speaking, since there is no differentiation in style or tone. Gibson sounds like Holly who sounds like Jack who sounds like his secretary. You can get too much of a good thing.

The novel ends in a flood of forgiveness and reconciliation. The closing moments, as Holly and her aged father dream about future holidays in America, are joyful; yet there is a gloomy sense of impending catastrophe. We sense that the old man won't live to enjoy another holiday, and that his daughter, though relieved to be free from the cloying formality of her old life, is set to face an uncertaln future alone.

As they sit together musing, the old man turns to his daughter and says, "You are normal. That's your tragedy." In a novel full of deceit, delusion and duplicity, this seems the only truthful remark. What stops this normality from becoming a drag is that Gibson, unlike many writers, cleady cares for his characters and is moved by their difficulties. He may be sentimental but he is never mocking. Their small, diminished lives interest him, and he will not condemn them. He delights in their eccentricities, in the waywardness and deficiencies of their speech, its fractured rhythms, repetitions and exaggerations. Sometimes you can hear him laughing with his characters but never at them. It's hard not to be swayed by this authorial generosity, this largeness of heart.

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral