The Blue Suit
by Richard Rayner
Picador, pounds 9.99
Richard Rayner may be living in California and engaged to a Finn but, my goodness, this book is frightfully English. He's a sort of Hugh Grant of literature; but, unlike Grant, Rayner is keeping the honest bread from the mouths of business girls. I've met his type through respectable friends; decent women who, rather than end up writing lifestyle features for the Sunday Times, have gone into hooking. "Can you pop round?" they say, "I've got Pay Corps Pete coming over and he wants something special. There's a drink in it for you. Bring your gown."
And there's Pay Corps Pete in shorts and schoolcap, trembling. "I've been a bad boy, Matron." "You have indeed, Pay Corps Pete. A very bad boy. So bad that I'm not going to beat you myself. Do you know who is going to beat you?" "No no. Please. Not the-" "Yes. The Head Master." Thwack! "Leggo! Yaroo!"
Rayner has been a bad boy. Such a bad boy. He used to steal books while he was at Cambridge. The rest of us just ran up huge bills and waited to be sued like gentlemen. Not Rayner. But now he's in love, and wants her to love him. To love him however awful he is. "Perhaps we all have this dream", he says, "to tell everything and yet not forfeit love." So off we go. Blame St Augustine, blame Rousseau, blame Mao's Cultural Revolution with its public self-criticism sessions, blame Oprah Winfrey: we are in the grip of confessional mania, and Rayner has walked into its clutches with a knowing smile, waving his withered, crusty sins like a badge of membership.
At first, I had a theory. My theory was that The Blue Suit is a clever satire on literary post-modernism. Rayner, you see, is stealing books. That's what authors do, except Rayner is doing it in reality. …