on 18 May 2009
Self-centred narrator, as seems inevitable with modern novels. The sheer effort of characterisation is I suppose taught to 'creative writers' and is a bit unnerving: the narrator's relatives and acquaintances - generally treated with a fair measure of contempt - are listed by mannerisms of speech and phrasing (these of course can take up a few sentences), physical appearance (how inadequate is the average novelist .. fat faces - there's simply no vocabulary for much of this), nicknames. Sneaking a look 200 pages on, exactly the same characters appear: the once-famous novelist, Aunt Deirdre and Uncle Roy, grandma, the 'Black Bottle' (pub), Anne (wife), Sibs (um.. someone's relative). I suppose Wilson has a card index, or something similar. By my guesstimate Wilson's books were being output at about one every six months (he also was a 'prolific' journalist) so some disciplined structural effort no doubt was necessary.
All the characters are passive - I noticed this in films aimed at the plebs (e.g. cheery blokes going to join up, not even vaguely curious what's in store). Things happen to them. That's if they're unlucky: these people take no interest in the larger world - it's something like a sink estate mentality, though Wilson is far too fond of these people to be as nasty as to say so. Even the Second World War is firmly history. (There is one exception - a Jewish publisher - you can guess the detail). His people are failed 'creatives' mostly. Their lives spent waiting for a review, a publication date, official approval in the shape of an exhibition or minor stage part, approval from a relative in the civil service, admission to the house of someone better off. In fact they are quite energetically passive, like people who speak enthusiastically about not voting. It's impossible to be certain whether this is Wilson's temperament, or he simply isn't the decisive type. Thus - just a single example - Jeffrey Archer's books allegedly are packed with prices of things. Or at least, one critic said that. One of Wilson's people - runs a pub, swears, perhaps based on that Private Eye Soho pub - is never ever shown wondering whether to try a new beer or put up the price of this or that. For Wilson, he's a backdrop who happens to move and make sounds.
Among the types is a painter, based doubtless on Lowry, with whom the narrative voice worked when young. Another is a northern novelist being perhaps reprinted; he might be Melvyn Bragg or Alan Bennett moved back in time, or maybe Richard Llewellyn or that Dorset chap converted into Yorkshire; something like that. The narrator does his best to act; and to appreciate acting - there are descriptions of Shaftesbury Avenue productions and as far as I remember all the performances are described as deeply convincing and moving, but all their performers are disappointing in person. In between serving in the Black Bottle and writing an early novel (about Aunt Deirdre and Uncle Roy) the narrator (not his phrase) 'marries well' - or at least better - and we have boredom, tears, and betrayal; as a continuo, we have an eccentric couple who rent rooms to would-be actors/actresses, the male of whom gets a part on what is obviously 'The Archers'.
Published in paperback by Penguin; the book is one of a series, though I imagine it's but a tiny segment of the Viking Penguin empire - or whatever that's morphed into.