Frank is a news reporter on a local TV station, and happy with his position in life, satisfied that he's good at what he does, and not sharing the aspirations of many of the other journalists to pursue a more glamorous career. He finds himself taking an interest in some of the human-interest stories that he covers, attending funerals of people who've died with no friends or family to mourn them. And when his predecessor Phil, who long ago moved on to national prime-time TV, is killed in mysterious circumstances, Frank feels a need to find out what happened.
This was quite a charming book. It's compared to Jonathan Coe by some of the reviewers, and even if I hadn't just finished What A Carve Up!, I think I'd have seen the similarities as well. Frank is a bit like Michael in that novel, and Benjamin in the Rotters' Club: essentially decent and well-meaning, and a bit bemused by the less decent character of so many people in the world. It's not really a mystery book: although the puzzle of what happened to Phil is the central story, the enjoyment comes from following and empathising with Frank as he uncovers and pieces together Phil's past.
The book was quite funny in places: Phil employed Cyril, an aged comedy writer, to supply him with quips that he could insert into his news bulletins, and Frank finds himself inheriting Cyril's services. Cyril's jokes are appalling, and Frank tries hard to avoid using them, but finds himself doing so in an attempt to avoid hurting Cyril's feelings. And rather like Tom's marketing campaigns in Grot, the jokes turn out to be popular, and Frank unknowingly gains a Richard Whitely type reputation for awful humour.
There was also some really nice writing in the book. For example, I really liked, when Frank was trying to find a house on a newly built estate
Due to some combinations of the whims of its developers and the contours of the land the Hilltop estate had something of an experimental feel. As Frank had looked at the page of the A-Z, he saw the steady Euclidean geometry of the road network descend into a spaghetti of ellipses and ox-bows at Hilltop. It was no clearer off the page. Crescents bloomed from crescents in a tangled Mandelbrot soup.
I guess that the epilogue of the book, and the last sentence, feel a bit like they were what the book was aiming to conclude with - I mean, they are pretty good and you get the feeling that they may have been written before the story which led to them was properly realised. But they do sum up the overall slightly melancholy but optimistic tone of the book and I thought worked really well.
I really enjoyed this book.
Completed : 14-Jan-2012