By Linda Grant
LITTLE, BROWN pounds 16.99
The people in Linda Grant's new novel talk. Boy, can they talk. And about all kinds of things. Reading it is a strange experience because you know right from the start that there's something different in the construction, the weft, the tempo of its dialogue. It's only after a while that you realise a great deal of fictional dialogue doesn't do anywhere near justice to the conversation of real, breathing people. Or more specifically, their personal obsessions.
People never do that in novels - go off on one about their own particular interests. (In life, you'll notice, people do it all the time.) Fictional characters tend to stick to the novelist's straight and narrow. But Grant gives her creations free rein, allowing them to bang whatever drum they like - and the result is a fascinating, starkly intelligent novel which isn't afraid to square up to issues other novelists might duck away from.
The narrative is divided between two people who arrive for different reasons in the same city. Alix Rebick is a bolshy, opinionated 49-year- old woman who has returned to Liverpool, the city of her birth, for her mother's death. Joseph Shields, an American architect, has decided to build a hotel on the waterfront.
Both are hiding a great deal, from others and from themselves, and both are Jewish. Alix refers again and again to her "big Jewish gob" which she keeps permanently painted Chanel red and which she uses to expound her views on criminology, feminism, the Liverpool underworld, the King's Road in the 1960s, the reclamation of former synagogues. (Joseph discovers the only way to silence her in the final pages of the book but, since this is a family newspaper, I can't say how.) Joseph has left a wife behind in Chicago and, even though she's moved out of their family home, refuses to believe that the marriage is over.
Given their passion for talking, it follows that the schism between what they say and what they decide to keep to themselves is where the novel's tension lies. It's gradually revealed that Joseph was once a member of the Israeli army and fought in the Yom Kippur War; but he won't disclose any details of his experiences during that time to anyone, even to his wife.
They pass the baton of their story …