Magazine article The Spectator

A Figure of Little Fun

Magazine article The Spectator

A Figure of Little Fun

Article excerpt

RUMOURS OF A HURRICANE by Tim Lott Viking, 14.99, pp. 378, ISBN 0670886610

Tim Lott's second novel (its predecessor won the Whitbread First Novel Award) ends with a dying man who has tumbled drunkenly into the path of a lorry hearing the final words of John Major's first Gulf war television broadcast (`Goodnight, all. And God bless.') It opens - in fact these two sections are reversed on the page - on the day of the 1979 general election. Anyone deducing that what follows will incline narrowly to the symbolic may congratulate him or herself right now. Not since Margaret Drabble's run of state-of-the-nation novels from the late Seventies and early Eighties (The Ice Age, The Middle Ground and so on) has anyone produced such a flagrantly figurative take on recent English life.

Twelve years before his fatal accident, our hero Charles William Buck is a Mantovani-loving, passingly uxorious late fortysomething living with his dumpy, younger wife Maureen in a Fulham council flat. Everything about Charlie, queerly enough, is figurative. He has a figurative job (print worker on the Times), a figurative, Essex-residing, wide-boy brother, Tommy, a figurative layabout son, Robert, and, yet more alarmingly, figurative aspirations. These prompt him to buy his home from the council, sell it at a fat profit and relocate to, oh dear me, Milton Keynes.

Here, unhappily, things begin to go wrong. These are the 1980s and change, we are repeatedly reminded, is in the air. A supper-serving helpmeet back in the old Fulham days, Maureen now blossoms into a businesswoman and adulteress, eventually decamping with the innocuous driving instructor from across the way. Sacked in the Murdoch putsch, but goaded on by Mr Enterprise Culture Tommy, Charlie responds by starting his own business (a model railway shop), buying a Mercedes and surfing the Lawson boom. How does it end? Did Jude the Obscure have a happy marriage? Did Lear deal prudently with his daughters? Reader, you know.

As a piece of dramatised sociology, Rumours of a Hurricane (the title inevitably refers to the great storm of 1987) works up a fine head of steam, a kind of Home Counties version of Our Friends in the North full of ordinary lives caught up in the rush of history. As a novel - a rather different thing - it never once casts off a series of emblematic shackles that bind its cast together like members of a prison chain gang. …

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