Magazine article The Spectator

Not Much Good Clean Fun

Magazine article The Spectator

Not Much Good Clean Fun

Article excerpt

THE SPA DECAMERON by Fay Weldon Quercus, £14.99, pp. 329, ISBN 9781847240927 £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

In the original Decameron by Boccaccio (mid-14th century) ten characters get together and tell stories within a narrative framework. It is an immensely attractive idea for a writer and has been used periodically ever since, notably by Chaucer.

This is the basis for Fay Weldon's latest novel. However, it has an odd and unattractive contemporary twist: all the characters tell stories about themselves.

This is a book of fictional gossip, all firstperson and poor-little-me.

Or rather not 'poor' at all. The framing device to account for the stories being told in the first place (Chaucer's pilgrimage, Boccaccio's plague) is that ten women, independently of each other, decide to spend Christmas and New Year in an expensive, though as it turns out extremely incompetent, health spa. This means that all of human life is not here -- only women who are rich enough to shell out £5,000 and who do not have the normal social and domestic lives which tend to make going away for Christmas both sad and impractical. (Oddly enough Weldon could have extended her social group very easily by extracting stories from the staff of the spa or from the 'bodyguard' who accompanies one of the paying customers, but she does not choose to do so. ) And what a bunch of nasty weirdos they all are.

One of the difficulties is structural:

novel readers have expectations. …

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