Twilight on the lawn

The Liquidator by Ferdinand Mount, Heinemann, pounds 14.99 Ferdinand Mount's new novel is utterly English and infused with a sense of faded splendour

Judging from the recent increases in Ferdinand Mount's output, the role of editor of the Times Literary Supplement - Mount's day job since 1991 - can't be unduly exacting. At any rate, an author who in the first quarter century of his career managed a paltry four novels, has since 1992 risen to the lightning extravagance of three in as many years. Thematically, Mount's books follow no set pattern - The Man Who Rode Ampersand (1975), for instance, is a portrait of a gentleman rider based on the author's own father, while Umbrella (1994) is a historical number on the life of Lord Aberdeen. Drawing them together, perhaps, is a connoisseur's eye for musty English decline, and it is significant that the sequence in which his new novel reposes is now billed as A Chronicle of English Twilight.

Twilight features largely in The Liquidator, which opens in a quintessential Mount setting: a timewarped suburban tennis club, its habitues grimly conscious that both premises and membership will end up by having seen better days. Here, on still-dappled lawns, assembles a varied cast: Gus, the wraith-like narrator; Tony and Josie, the "golden couple" on whom the story turns; and its grand panjandrum, Josie's father, a rapacious insolvency accountant named Geoffrey Pagan-Jones. Desperately emulous of Tony's dapper ways and presumed destinies (he seems booked to take on Pagan-Jones's lucrative insolvency practice as well as his daughter), Gus is pulled up short when the relationship breaks apart and Pagan-Jones turns nasty. Tony, at first relegated to "disposals" at the extremity of the North Circular, is subsequently thrown out of the firm altogether. Tracked down to an East Coast repertory company and a starring role in a production called Up Lazarus, then to an Essex terrace, his star seems irrevocably on the wane.

The seeds of Tony's renaissance, it transpires, lie 80 years and several thousand miles away in the form of a turn-of-the-century English missionary sent out to proselytise in the Levant. Beatha, who converts and marries a Maronite priest, is a convincing creation, her family background sketched in a few bright threads of language and scene. The disappointments of her married life are borne without complaint when her husband, brought to England and ordained into the Anglican church, reveals himself as a womanising arriviste. There is a lucrative inheritance, though, and two generations later his grandson can return to the Middle East to establish himself as a sort of feudal warlord. At which point fate, masquerading as ancient tribal enmity, steps in once more and the newly-widowed Josie, who took the precaution of passing her accountancy exams all those years ago, comes back to London in search of her own heritage.

Full of knowing resonances, lurking symbols (Mary Magdalen, showers of gold) and expert twists, The Liquidator specialises in precise linguistic effects. At one point, Gus eats a slice of apple pie which is like "a cross-section of gash breccia in a geology book". At heart, though, the book is another of Mount's chiaroscuros from the post-Imperial twilight, infused with a sense of faded splendour, of the modern world somehow failing to satisfy the yearnings of the disillusioned young people wandering in its shade.

Not everything convinces - the narrative device in which Gus collects his data from a series of raconteurs is rather stagey, and the synchronicity with which minor characters weave in and out of the text is too blatant. An accountant, too, might jib at some of the professional detail, in particular a reference to Ernst & Young (whose ampersand Mount curiously omits) several years before the firm was actually created. What remains, despite the Powellesque schematics and the obvious contrivance, is an impression of artlessness. There is a kind of deliberate amateurism in the way Mount writes (or rather a concealed professionalism) that is as English as his material, as quite as welcome.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat