Meeting the English


Oh, dang.  This motherhood lark isn’t exactly conducive to sustained concentrated thought.  The process of writing a post used to be a matter of opening the laptop and chewing on a pen hungrily while typing.  Today, the process is more like this:

1. Sit on the sofa, surrounded by pillows and metres of fabric, feeding the baby.  Look at the laptop across the room, light blinking.  Think, “Oo, I need to write up that book.”  Fail to sustain the thought as you try to convince baby to feed.

2. Burp the baby, holding metres of fabric in ingenious way in order to catch the projectile sick.  (This keeps me perky: it always comes when you least expect it.)  Repeat steps one and two for an hour and a half.  Forget about blogpost.

3. Wash the metres of fabric, and your clothes, and the throws over the sofa, and baby’s clothes, as failed to anticipate the exact moment of the upchuck.

4. Open laptop, but then unload washing machine, unload dishwasher, and hang washed clothes on drying rack.

5. Look at laptop, but instead turn baby onto its tummy for required “tummy time.” Coo.  Turn her back when the screeching immediately gets too much.

6. Sit back down at laptop but feel starving.  Boil kettle for tea.  Make tea, but do not drink it.

7. Walk near to laptop; catch sight of baby and take series of photos with phone as she is too enchanting.

7. Sit down again with laptop.  Open email and look at to do list.  Choose least urgent item and work on it for 43 seconds.

8. Leap up to clear baby sick; associated washing and changing.

9. Start the whole process again.  Sit to feed, considering the laptop (out of reach) and the cooling tea (out of reach.)  Remember you were going to write a blogpost.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  Really, I am loving it, bowled over by the scrumptious bundle that’s mine, all mine.  But perhaps it will mean you aren’t surprised when I say that Meeting the English wasn’t even the book I intended to buy (I planned to read Kate Fox’s Watching the English) and having bought and read it, I now can’t remember much about it.

Luckily, what I can remember is rather positive.  Like Crooked Heart, it is a simple, comic and self-aware story.  It is an outsider’s view on the Hampstead literary scene (it reminded me of Nina Stibbe’s Man at the Helm in its narratorial voice and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty in its outsider-sees-intelligentsia view).  This world is depicted in all of its privileged horrors – snobbery, anorexia as a lifestyle choice, hobbyhorse property development, and little in the way of true love or affection within families. Struan, the Scottish outsider who is meeting these English, is looked down upon for his non-metropolitan, unsophisticated background, but is the only character with integrity and human compassion.  Only he can take on the unpalatable realities of being a carer for a stroke victim where Philip’s own family recoil.  Juliet, Philip’s daughter, is a joy of a shallow teenage character.  Obsessed with appearances, boys and herself, her assessments of the world around her are wonderfully comic.  With these two leading much of the perspective, the whole thing comes across as rather “consciously naive” (to quote I Capture the Castle, a beloved recent re-read).  But that’s what gives it much of its pleasure.

This is at its heart a growing up novel – a sometimes darkly comic journey into awareness of self and others.  If I can remember rightly, I’d recommend it. Now please excuse me; I need to sit on the sofa and watch my laptop from across the room.


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