The way out of being a boy

THE LOVE PARADE by Matthew Branton Hamish Hamilton pounds 10.99
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The Independent Culture
Until some way through The Love Parade, a book that is about being young now, the reader wonders whether the author has overdignified a callow work by its three epigraphs, one, admittedly, taken from "Video Killed The Radio Star" by The Buggles, one from The Gambler by Dostoevsky, and one from "Provide, Provide!" by Robert Frost:

No memory of having starred

Atones for later disregard,

Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified

With boughten friendship at your side

Than none at all. Provide, provide!

Matthew Branton, though, laughs last. Having offered the usual clues of rite-of-passage books - an impress of Scott and Zelda reeling and tittuping through its earlier pages, the firm but meretricious tread of Jay Gatsby, the kitten heel of Nicole Diver, the actual echo of Thalberg and the shadowing presence of Salinger to be caught from a wry distance - The Love Parade succeeds in authoritatively achieving two things at once, in a fashion emphatically stylish. Since Branton has heaved in the galley of fiction for quite a bit of his not long life - he worked for the excellent publishers Fourth Estate - he could have produced a book sufficiently sophisticatedly formulaic to ensure that he'd get away with it. He's not done that, but has succeeded in delivering a work simultaneously full of fizzing superficial flavour and of real eventual seriousness.

There's a perceived irony here that is at the heart of the overworked contemporary tussle between "low" and "high" culture. Donna Tartt's apparently accomplished and certainly successful first novel, The Secret History, relied for most of its tension on the understood contradiction between nasty acts (bullying, murder) and fancy education (evidenced by some embarrassing classical- culture-studies tags and a hint of hysteron-proteron showing-off). Of course there's no such thing as this contradiction. Clever people may know that they should be kind and good; they may think of every reason not to be. If the book sought scale - other than from its protracted length and distended pretensions - from its classical references, it did not achieve it. The impression was of big names dropped into froth, big themes hiding embarrassed behind transparently artificial characters. You cannot simply send out for seriousness.

The Love Parade drops names, too. Not merely the mandatory cultural ones, which constitute, anyway, overcomforting signals for generations older than Branton's, which is the first DOS generation, and perhaps one of the last even to nod at books. By dropping those names, he's giving some of us a false hand before he lets us go in his sliding narrative of consumption and sensation.

The novel tricks itself out as thriller, and a love story. It's both, in a sparkling, teasing way, all gratification of plot-resolution and desire being deferred, as though we had entered the appetitive ultraworld of advertisements. Branton has made his hero, Jake, an ex-boy-band singer, creation of a corporation. It's just like a so cool idea, but Jake's clever (modifying his way of expressing himself depending upon his companion, until, at the end, it's just him, himself, face to face with us), and by the time the band falls apart he's got subject to time, and he wants out of being a boy. But not so much that he can forsake a boy's dreams.

He meets Brett (she) and River (he), beautiful twins, delicious users of all the late century can churn out in return for money. It's amazing how wholesome this book is, considering its frenzy of brandnames, petnames, diddy words for drugs, and moneygames. The - almost exclusively virtual - sex is foreseeable (incest had to come into it, if only as notional hommage to the tennis frock lifted from Nabokov). The miracle is that the love isn't foreseeable, so that we turn the pages of this disaffected- seeming book, stimulated by all the wrong things, stuff you can buy or cheat for, stuff that empties you out like all addiction, and then - we end the book, if not replete, at some kind of spiritual rest, without feeling suckered. The Love Parade is a grave book about the fight against gravity.

The last laugh is that Jake took us into his dream, showed us all the signs, and although we stir as reality becomes more filmic and heightened as the novel takes hold, we don't want to wake up until Branton forces us to. This is an entertaining and original book, and, in a paradoxically Ruskinian way, a moral and forgiving one.