Was she a friend of Bill's?

Special Relationship

Robyn Sisman

Heinemann £10

We all know what we want from a blockbuster. Hot sex. Betrayal. Bitchery. But as you turn the pages of Robyn Sisman's novel, , the only thing that gets hotter is the air. First there's the publisher's blurb, which tells us that Sisman, a former editor who once brushed shoulders with the literati, went to Oxford at the same time as Bill Clinton. And then there's the roman clef about a woman, Annie, who has a one night stand with a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in the Sixties and bears a son that might be his. Twenty- two years later, Jordan Hope is knocking at the door of the White House and Annie's son, convinced that Jordan is his father, threatens to alter the course of world history and wreck Annie's comfortable marriage in the process.

In the meantime, Annie is poised on the brink of becoming a woman of substance after years of toiling away in a rickety Soho office as a literary agent, with a book auction that will net millions of dollars. And then there's Rose, Annie's chum from Oxford, now a phenomenally successful magazine editor in New York (Tina Brown, anyone?) who has the power to bend fate to her ambition. Phew. It's enough to wilt the radicchio at any publisher's lunch. Then there's the bidding war, the delicious promise of flagelot beans spilled. Talk about bank (or should that be bonk?) ability.

Expect a few hours of titillating tell-all from Robyn Sisman's novel though, and you're in for a big disappointment. Here we are in Oxford circa 1969, all sunlit lawns and champagne and punting on the Isis. Youth and fun and innocence marred slightly, very slightly, mind, by the spectre of Vietnam. Instead of evoking the atmosphere though, Sisman scatters her prose with as many period references as she can muster. So Annie has "Joni Mitchell hair" and wears Biba. Rose favours Grace Slick, Jeanne Moreau and purple tights and crushes her cigarettes out on a Chairman Mao ashtray. People vault over stiles, leap into the beat when they dance, throw out their arms and twirl around. It's all so exciting! "A bubble of happiness rose within [Annie] till she thought she would burst." One great big exclamation mark! Writing by numbers!

By the time we get to the sex scene, it's page 222, and in place of the sound of ripping cheesecloth, we get this: "Annie felt pierced with joy. She heard a low, crooning sound that might have been Jordan's saxophone, and realised that it was her own voice." Sisman is equally coy on the nail-biting question of Bill and the spliff: "Annie could have told anyone who asked that the stuff made him sick."

Meanwhile, in the present, Annie's son, Tom, is in his first term at Oxford. On the trail of the truth about his paternity, he goes to visit one of his mother's old teachers, who lives in a house called Honeysuckle Cottage with a white picket fence, and who has "a face wizened like a monkey's". In the park, he sees women wheeling prams (prams?). Later, Peter Kerry style (except that he is 18, not 15), Tom disappears, not to Malaysia, but to New York to confront Jordan. Nonetheless, he's astounded by such things as pooper-scoopers, he's shocked when he's jeered at by drug dealers at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and he meets people whose concept of Englishness still comes from Upstairs Downstairs.

Someone really should have told Robyn Sisman that it takes more than a spot of judicious name-dropping and a marketable CV to turn yourself into Jackie Collins. This is a world of sugar and spice, where everyone is incurably nice. Even Rose, the scheming networker, blunts her own stilettoes in the name of loyalty. Annie's boss, Jack, who, in a clumsily tacked- on subplot, attempts professional sabotage, ends up stammering an apology. There's even a death bed scene with Annie and her mother, the brittle society wife. And yes, they all live happily ever after. What a wind-up.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test