Jokes fly from the beginning, but it is only in the middle, around page 100, that there is the sex, to whit: "Her wetness all over my face, she smelt faintly of cumin." This might have the more prurient among us speculating about Frears's tastes and also doubting that even such a culinary metaphor will deflect the gourmet Fry from his avowed celibacy. On the face of it, The Big Kiss offers another variant upon that familiar tale, the yuppie on the skids.
Steve Cork has long since graduated from a stall in Kensington Market to become a partner in a fashion enterprise. Its initial success led him to take out a mortgage on a large house by a golf-course in Roehampton only to find that sartorial whims are not paramount as recession continues. His wife is disgruntled.
It never takes much to awaken the animosity that seethes below the surface of commercial life. At the start, Steve finds himself able to set aside any concern about the strange, even murderous cries which come from his partner Alan's SW7 mews house. Such unconcern does not last long, for it turns out that it is Steve, rather than the alcoholic gay divorcee Tony, who is to get the chop in the restructuring process.
To give away much more of the plot would be unfair. One might safely reveal that, along the way, Steve is given to such hallucinations as the Capital Radio tower bulging before his eyes and a bargain-bin Habitat peppermill grinding perfectly. Not only are there such expected locations as wine bars (it is no advert for the Hilton) but also the psychiatric ward. This sounds grim, but The Big Kiss is far from solemn. One reads on avidly, reluctant to break off and find a pen to note down the jokes. No matter, for it is easy enough to flick back and find copious examples.
Chandler was more seamless and graceful, but Forties LA was not the rough- and-ready place that contemporary London is. Here, young women greet champagne with the words, "Wow! Rock-and-roll mouth-wash! Wicked!" And in Steve's marriage, "seven-year itch had developed into nine-year eczema".
New terror is brought to a screening of Jurassic Park. Not even this quite prepares one for a display of golfing prowess far removed from Updike or Wodehouse. It makes Dan Kavanagh's cheese-wire-round-the-groin scene in Duffy look the stuff of a Sunday tea-time serial. Or, as Oscar Moore puts it when describing the book, it's "a smacker on the gob that pushes its wagging tongue right inside your mouth and licks it dry". One appreciates the sentiment if not the expression. Let us simply say that The Big Kiss, vulgarity itself, offers choice sapidity.