I can’t remember exactly but I think Joe Bennett (or was it Nicky Watson?) mentioned Justin Cartwright as one of his favourites. When you have been a fan of an author from the start. He’s always been a novelist who has a quite uncanny sense of the here and now and if people want to look back on how people behaved and talked in our time they could go straight to his novels. Of course the people are very much London, very much middle class and often in the communications and entertainments industries.
This new novel is about a family – quite well off, liberal (of course), leftish (of course) and clever (goes without saying). The mother had died and the bereaved father isn’t behaving as a sadly bereaved parent is expected to behave: it’s not that he doesn’t miss his wife and regret her passing but he is actually quite content by himself. His family have messy muddled lives: his son, having an affair with a woman in his law office, is married to a lovely woman who’d been a ballet dancer and is anxious to get pregnant but nothing seems to be happening; his daughter has dumped her awful boyfriend but he starts stalking her.
The father, David, had been a television correspondent of the Jonathan Dimbleby variety and he has friends, all late middle aged like himself, who meet sporadically. He had been in the film industry when young (as had Cartwright: he had once directed one of those awful 1970 soft porn comedies that the British film industry specialised in at the time: at least his one, called Rosie Dixon, Night nurse, didn’t feature Robin Askwith but it did have the wonderful comedienne Beryl Reid and this is fictionalised in one of his novels). One thing you could say about Cartwright is he is often a little over serious and his characters tend to agonise about their problems and be overly conscious of their feelings. This may, however, be par for the course in Hampstead, Highgate and the places these people play. It does mean that you miss the sort of humorous irony the English are supposedly good at (and the Americans are supposedly at sea with). There is, however, one very funny bit where Adam, a boozy onetime novelist who’s made a fortune out of television series writing, sounds off on why he doesn’t write novels:
“I hate novels which describe the awful problems of being a writer and novels about a mysterious legacy of papers found in a trunk which may explain the meaning of the Gnostic gospels, and I hate novels which tell you the real story of William Shakespeare, who was secretly a Catholic priest, as you can tell from a small carving on a pew in a chapel in Stratford, and I hate novels about magic and elves and the lost arts of necromancy, and even worse – much ****ing worse – I hate novels about fairies and guardian angels and novels about sensitive people who have autistic children touched by ****ing genius and I also hate novels of suspense where the writer withholds from the reader details that he knows perfectly ****ing well in order to make it suspenseful and, even worse than having my nuts passed through the grinder, I hate reading novels about time travel and what is called – can you believe this? – fantasy, which turns out to be ****ing bollocks on a Homeric scale about people dressed in plastic armour with silly names like Snarfbucket of Zadok, Lord of the Fens and the Mountains.”
He could say that but a selector of library fiction couldn’t possibly comment (except to say we could add novels about sexy vampires, paranormal romances of any kind, crime novels that get mired on forensics, paranoia thrillers, the Left behind series…………euuuuuuuch, enough already! So read this novel instead: it has none of these.