I read AL Kennedy’s comments on the current state of literary fiction – all those novels “about thirtysomething people in Kensal Green” – with a shudder of recognition.
When I finished my novel, Completion, I was a thirtysomething living in Kensal Green. Luckily my imagination was sufficiently wild that I set the action in other London postcodes: Highbury, Dalston, Notting Hill. And the book’s only thirtysomething spends most of her time 3,000 miles away in Dubai.
Thanks to Brent’s Zadie Smith and Highbury’s Nick Hornby, the thirtysomething north Londoner is an increasingly familiar protagonist in so-called literary fiction. No doubt there are countless experimental, exurban novels out there, still sadly unpublished. Is that the timidity of the books business, or simple demographics? Probably both.
Smith was 24 when White Teeth was published, but I’d guess most debut novelists are thirtysomething or thereabouts. London is the heart of British cultural life. The metropolis draws aspiring writers, and offers them myriad characters and narratives.
Completion is a comedy about a long-divorced family selling the house they once lived in. It was set in London because it seemed to be the epicentre of the property market panic I had made my theme. A lot of novel-writing 30-year-olds will soon be unable to pay inflated London rents, and be forced to flee to more affordable cities. I look forward to reading fiction about thirtysomethings in Bristol, Brighton and Detroit.