Magazine article The Spectator

Wounded at Wembley

Magazine article The Spectator

Wounded at Wembley

Article excerpt

HALF IN LOVE by Justin Cartwright Sceptre, 14.99, pp. 309

Justin Cartwright specialises in what might be called cross-cultural connections. Look At It This Way (1990), his scorching anatomy of late-period Thatcherism (and several other things besides) featured a sub-Bryson American journalist fixated on the cockney survivor of a decades-old lion attack. The Booker-shortlisted In Every Face I Meet (1995) starred a fortysomething financial consultant obsessed with Nelson Mandela. Abstruse and fanciful at first, these contrasts were given substance by sheer pressure of events. Hemmed in by a nervy and minutely described present no one outdoes this author's accounts of the horrors of modern London - nearly all of Cartwright's characters end up taking solace from a rudimentary but immensely enticing past.

In Half in Love the fissure between these real and imagined lives is more jagged than ever. Richard McAllister, Cartwright's 'young' (41) ministerial hero is recuperating in South Africa having been stabbed in the neck during England's Euro 2000 match against France. The attack, carried out by an ear-ringed racist named Carl Panky, was apparently 'random', the result of Panky deciding that, Richard is a `posh cunt'. Obscurely, McAllister - an archetypally decent man whose good nature shines off the page like lamplight-- blames himself for this encounter.

Mafeking, where he amuses himself by exploring his great-uncle's involvement in the Boer war (Major Dick's equine interests supply the customary past/present fix) turns out to be a flimsy refuge. Back home his affair with Joanna Jermyn, newly famous after her starring role in the film of the title, is about to hit the tabloids. Whisked back to England by prime ministerial fiat, he finds an apple cart of personal problems waiting to be upset. His dandyish and insolvent father dies of a stroke. His Wembley assailant looks as if he may have been taking revenge on behalf of a cousin whom Richard helped send to jail. Meanwhile there are distressing rumours from across the pond about Joanna's liaison with a hunk of co-starring transatlantic beefcake called Case Stipe. The prime minister's regard, endlessly conveyed by his weaselly minion, fades away to the point where, Richard having failed to testify against Panky in court, it disappears altogether.

It would be surprising if a novel about the distance between real and imagined lives didn't have some kind of political subtext. …

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