Summer Things by Joseph Connolly Faber & Faber, pounds 9.99; The anarchic ocean

A rocky English seaside farce gets some stick from D J Taylor

Joseph Connolly's fourth novel opens in a

London estate agency in the midst of

some enthusiastic oral sex. "Lick me," begs Norman the timorous clerk as the proprietor's daughter scurries beneath his desk, only to see her - happily unsuspecting - father materialise before him. The action then cuts to a high-pitched (as in conversation) suburban dinner party, at which the bosomy hostess enquires of her 15-year-old neighbour which part of Brittany exactly was it that he visited last year. "Breast," ripostes pop-eyed Colin. "Lovely."

As you will have surmised, Summer Things is an example of that decayed and justly maligned sub-genre, the modern English comic novel. Kingsley Amis and Tom Sharpe are mentioned on the jacket. Within lurks, or rather screeches, a high-octane car chase around and into the usual crash barriers of adultery, class and people behaving badly, with vehicular access by way of what we did on our holidays.

Elizabeth Street fancies an expensive hotel at an English seaside resort. Estate agent hubby Howard is more interested in the 16-year-old male object of his affections, even more so when he discovers that a single-mother chum plus caterwauling baby are set to join them in the suite. Meanwhile, bankrupt Brian from next door and his desperately emulous wife are having to put up in a caravan, while young mistress Street has dragged Norman off for a humiliating week in Chicago, unwittingly subsidised by her dad, whose business the love-struck Norm has been sedulously defrauding to placate his inamorata.

Swelled by several other unlovely creations, the cast embarks on the customary round of misunderstandings and moral lapses endemic to this kind of entertainment. They have sex. They talk, or rather shout, at one another in italics. Unfailingly, they get the wrong end of the stick. A particularly rib-tickling moment comes when an insanely jealous husband named John imagines that his wife is confessing adultery with a man who has done nothing more than offer her a mint. "But I didn't put it in my mouth," Lulu remonstrates. "I hate the taste." Reader, I fell off my chair.

Intermittently, sincerity - or something approximating to it - rears its head in a brute epigram or two. "That's not love, John," Lulu maintains, of her husband's pitiless surveillance techniques. "It's my sort of love," he grimly replies, "the only sort of love I have to give you." Actually I did laugh at that bit, but probably not for the reason the author intended. A certain amount of interest can be found in the possible implications of Connolly's character drawing. The people in Summer Things tend to be either venal braggarts or sad cases (indigent Brian, who collects manhole covers and rewrites his suicide note annually, is much the most sympathetic). However, a faint hope of mass role-reversal is dashed by the circularity of the denouement.

Oddly, but typically of this type of book, there is no humour - just unrelenting savagery aimed at immobile targets. Now and again Connolly's overcooked balefulness raises a smile. About foreign holidays: "And on the last day you haggle your way through markets in currency you don't understand with people you deeply distrust for garbage too dreadful to live with - and then solemnly agree over dinner that truly here is heaven and the thought of ever leaving is breaking your heart." But for all kinds of reasons, this is one of the saddest novels I've read in ages.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?