Janice Gentle is a writer of romantic fiction, who gets her inspiration by travelling on underground trains and imagining stories about the the lives of fellow passengers. Her objective is to make enough money to be able to search the world for the man that she met, once, on a magical night when she was young. But unbeknownst to Janice, her agent has kept most of the royalties from her, using them to fund her own lavish lifestyle. When her agent dies, another publishing company approaches Janice. And they want a book that's a bit more raunchy that she would normally write.
This was a bit of a strange book. At the start, Janice is about to embark on a new novel, and so rides on the underground in search of inspiration. She makes mental notes on some of the people she sees. As it turns out, she doesn't use these characters, but from this point, the book alternates between Janice's story, and the real-lives of the those people she'd identified as inspirations for her book.
The mini-stories were really good: a vicar's wife who is desperately unhappy in her marriage and is on the brink of an affair with an old lover; a rather dim secretary who's married to a man that is more keen on DIY than sex; a single guy who's just split up from his girlfriend and is too proud to go back to her even though he wants to. They were moving and funny. I especially liked the DIY man, who, after walking out of the house in a huff because his wife complained about the noise of the Xpelair he'd taken so much trouble to install, brightened up a bit when he closed the garden gate and noticed that it was a bit wobbly, so would need attention.
Janice's story on the other hand was a bit hit and miss. What I didn't like was the Tom Sharpe style farcical elements that were introduced. For example, the agent (who was lesbian) had, before she expired, taken in a woman who'd been living on the street as a temporary lover. When the agent failed to return home, the woman assumed her identity. This meant that when the American agent turned up, there was scope for loads of confusion when they're trying to negotiate what the agent thinks is a new book, and the woman thinks is a surrogate pregnancy. I didn't find this stuff particularly funny, and I think the book would have been a lot better without it. I liked the gentle humour, but not the over-the-top farce.
So I think I'll read more by this author, but I'd be quite happy if her other books concentrate on the tube characters.
Completed : 25-Apr-2008 (audiobook)