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
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own