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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
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

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links
    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing