White City Blue, by Tim Lott

This is the story of Francis (Frankie) Blue, who's got to make a decision about whether he should get married, but worries that if he does it will compromise the laddish friendships he has with his four best friends.

I think this is Lott's first novel, and followed the publication of his autobiography, The Scent of Dried Roses. It was interesting to read this so soon after reading the autobiography, and there were a few things in this novel which did have references back to Lott's own life.

The book started off very promisingly, but I quickly came to feel I wouldn't enjoy it. Frankie is not a very nice person - he's an estate agent and his nickname - "Frankie the Fib" is a clue to how he goes about his profession. An evening with his mates just sounds coarse and vulgar - going to QPR matches and then to the pub afterwards to get tanked up, loads of swearing, slagging off women, etc.. When he meets Veronica, his fiancee-to-be, he falls back on mendacity to get her on a date, and when they start talking about marriage, he rebels against the conditions she appears to be establishing which limit his freedom.

But this is a book about how Frankie comes to discover for himself that there's more to life than boozing with your mates, and there is a lot of interesting introspection the way which means that although by the end of the book I still didn't like him, it was a great read.

Frankie's three best mates are ones he's had since being at school. When his relationship with Veronica conflicts with his friendship for his mates, he is forced to look back on the way he became friends with them and what's happened to the relationships since school days. His gut-reaction to Veronica's challenge is to be defensive, but the more uncomfortable possibility is that maybe they're really only friends because of habit - just a conditioned response to think of them as best mates regardless of whether or not he now has anything in common with them.

One episode which is a crucial one in Frankie's past is the August day just after finishing high school when all four friends spent the afternoon together: drinking wine, sniffing coke, being chased by a park-keeper for playing in a paddling pool, and getting chased by taxi-drivers. Even during this day, Frankie appears to realise how unique it is, and how life afterwards will seem slightly shabby in comparison. It's something they all look back on, and serves as the motif for the friendships: how something which is intense and real and self-sufficient becomes valuable only in retrospect.

I was very impressed by the book, and would definitely read it again. Not sure I liked it quite as much as The Love Secrets of Don Juan - it didn't have such a good ending - but well worth the read.

Completed : 16-Jun-2004 (audiobook)

Re-read in 2016; I'd been reading Dead Like You which was atrociously narrated, and I remembered this book being a fun read.

What I thought I'd remembered being significant in this book was the episode when they played golf. But this time I read it and thought "mmm, the story about when they were kids in August is more memorable". And looking back, it's that one that I'd specifically mentioned last time.

Last time, I said I "would definitely read it again". I don't think it was quite as good as I remembered. Something I didn't understand is what on earth Vronky saw in Frankie - he wasn't really given any apparent redeeming characteristics: even his internal thoughts didn't make him seem like a particularly nice person, and he certainly doesn't seem to treat Vronky very well.

Anyway, worth reading again, and the narration was a lot better than Dead Like You.

Completed : 16-FebJun-2016 (audiobook)

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