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on 5 October 2009
I bought this book after reading a review that claimed the book was "extremely good, but really rather bonkers". My mother had been persuading me to read Fay Weldon for ages, so I thought I'd give this one a go. I can tell you that the reviewer was exactly right! As a whole, the novel is brilliant - very funny, lots of sharp one-liners, and some wonderful insight on what life was once like, and what it might be like in the future. And the plot is pretty strange... The book is told from the point of view of Frances,a sister that Fay never actually had, who is now aged eighty and is living in the near future (2013). Frances has clearly lived a life very like Fay Weldon's real life - become a famous author, married lots of times, been something of a feminist, etc - while her sister, the fictional 'Fay', is a struggling cookery writer living in Australia. I'll have a go at outlining what happens, though it might be better to just read the book without knowing the plot, as there are surprises around every corner.

Frances is trying to hide from the bailiffs who want to take her Primrose Hill house in lieu of her debts. All the banks have collapsed during the Crunch (sound familiar?!) which was followed by the Shock, the false Recovery and then in 2013 the Bite. No-one has any money, except maybe the sinister-sounding government, who have sealed up everyone's back doors, and have CCTV on every street corner. Food is scarce and everyone lives off National Meat Loaf, which may (or may not) have something to do with government scientists and human meat...

At the same time as telling us all of this, Frances (aged eighty) is recounting her life story, which is hilarious as well as being fascinating, as we are (I'm pretty sure) supposed to guess that this is really based on Fay Weldon's own life. There are lots of interesting and funny musings on things like feminism, art and fate; some great descriptions of what life was like in various decades (she characterises the middle-classes in the seventies when she shouts at her daughter 'Venetia, time for supper, your avocado is ready!')

And, simultaneous with the 'real time' (Frances hiding from the bailiffs, worrying about her grandchildren, talking to her daughters) and the 'past time' (Frances telling her life story), Frances also becomes less and less sure what is real and what is not. So you get this sense of sliding in and out of reality - perhaps because of her old age, or maybe just because she is a writer and used to fiction. Sometimes Frances tells you when she is writing fiction and when it's fact, other times its up to the reader to figure it out.

All of this adds up to a really satisfying read. Its darkly funny, sharp, witty and insightful, as well as being completely original, which is a rare treat these days. I think it would be a perfect book for a bookclub as there is just so much to talk about: unreliable narrator; power of government; fact v fiction; old age; memory; does fate exist; parallel universes; feminism; the role of the past in interpreting the present. Phew! such a lot in a small book!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 November 2009
I've enjoyed many of Fay Weldon's Books and know that she can be very imaginative and this book is certainly full of surprises. It's an amalgam of bits of the author's life; mixed with dystopic visions of what the future will be like after the upheavals caused by the credit crunch; and nostalgic reflections about what life was like in the good times. The book is set in 2013 when Britain is a totalitarian state and is loosely held together by the narrator, Frances's, complicated interactions with her extended family and ex-husbands. It's a bit like Orwell's 1984, but written in Weldon's spritely style and full of humour. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as some of her earlier books as it flitted about a lot with disconnected chapters and so many characters coming and going that I sometimes couldn't remember who was whom.
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on 27 March 2010
This is a very funny book, a fast read, rolls along effortlessly and is full of biting humour. This is Fay at her best. I have also read Auto de Fay, her biography and this book in a fictional way mirrors her biography but gives you insights into what she previously wrote but in a much more colourful way. I loved it. It does also have many parallels to our recession situation and the complete farce of political life right now with an election looming. There are many interesting references, for instance, Stanley Kubriks Clock Work Orange,Sylvia Plath and Assia W who she did know and work with in the 60's in an advertising agency, a very wry, witty take on her life always with a supernatural 'fate' very naturally directing events, as seen from a distance with her hindsight. I like the phrase she uses to describe the turning points in her life, as unexpected still moments, like when a car slows down, changes gear and takes a corner, but she puts it much better than that in context. A very good read.
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on 29 May 2010
Yet another example of Fay Weldon's remarkable individuality and originality as a writer. Is there anything she doesn't know about human life? I doubt it. In this book she flits from idea to idea like a Tinkerbell spreading stardust that turns into our own fears, hopes, possibilities and dreams, with a nowness, a foreverness, and a yesterdayness, and she does it with laughter and strength, candour and a pointing finger that says, `I warn you!' Luxuriously Fay Weldon. A very clever novel.
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on 30 September 2010
Fans of Fay Weldon, will have read many of her books, and so will know what to expect. They will not be disappointed, the witch has cast her usual spell, and pleasure is the result.
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Fay Weldon, the immensely popular British author of twenty-nine previous novels, creates an unusual variation of metafiction in this new novel. Here, an elderly author is sitting on the stairs behind the closed front door of her house in Chalcot Crescent, evading the bailiffs who want to talk with her about her debts. The beleaguered author is Frances Prideaux, whose life parallels that of Fay Weldon in almost every key issue. Frances, however, says she is the sister of Fay, an author she claims is now reduced to writing cookbooks. Frances herself has written dozens of successful novels, and now, needing more money, has decided to write "a fantasy about alternative universes."

Frances's alternative universe is in 2013, a time in which Britain is in dire straits financially and socially, and her writing becomes this novel, a broad satire of the issues she sees dominating British life in the immediate future. These issues alternate with Frances's commentary on her own life and that of her family. The Shock of 2008 has eventually evolved into the phony Recovery of 2012, and finally the Bite of 2013. It is a time of fuel allowances, ration books, roads and other infrastructure in decay, power cuts, water shortages, sixty percent unemployment, and banks which charge the depositor for putting the money into the bank! The National Unity Government (NUG) controls all, the National Institute for Food Excellence (NICE) feeds the people (mostly on National Meat Loaf, made from suspicious substances), and the National Institute of Homes for Everyone (NIHE) provides housing. Neighborhood Watch, aided by CiviCams, "protects the peace."

As Frances describes her life, past and present, the reader comes to know about her child out of wedlock, her many marriages, the marriages and liaisons of her two daughters, all their children, and their relationships with her and with each other. Several of the grandchildren and their friends have suddenly appeared at Frances's house in Chalcot Crescent, intent upon using her house as the central headquarters from which they will capture an important person in the government and conduct their own coup.

Weldon's social commentary is to the point, but it, and the satire associated with it, are heavy-handed, lacking the subtlety that allows readers (at least this one) to identify with it. Annoying and unnecessary aphorisms pop up everywhere for emphasis: "Money gives you confidence. You can laugh at authority," "Fate determines all things. What happens was meant to be." Frances introduces numerous characters from her life, but their importance to the thematic unity of the novel is unclear. There is much repetition, and the novel, overall, feels rough and fragmented, "scattered" and somewhat unfocused. It may be that Weldon's late novels benefit from a long familiarity with Weldon, both as a writer and as a person, but it lacked charm for me, and I wonder how successfully it will travel across the pond to a US audience. Mary Whipple
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on 26 December 2013
"I write less implicitly, more explicitly, if you understand the distinction, but not so well," writes the main character Frances, an eighty-something novelist, on how her writing style has changed over the years. If Chalcot Crescent is anything to go by the same could be said of Weldon herself.

The plot premise is vintage Weldon, deliciously quirky and surreal. Frances is Fay's fictional younger sister, inhabiting a dystopian parallel not-too-distant future. Throw in an elderly, unreliable narrator - Francis admits to "a bout of trouble with what is truth and what is fiction, what is true memory and what is false" - and the set-up seems to promise much.

But the execution doesn't entirely satisfy. Weldon at her best (The Life and Loves of a She Devil, The Cloning of Joanna May) is witty and cynical. Chalcot Crescent is long on cynicism, short on wit - a self-indulgent rant, in other words. OK, OK, that's harsh. Let's just say she's written better books and leave it at that.

I never thought I'd say it about a Fay Weldon novel but...

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on 17 April 2012
In many ways, this is a decent book. With an interesting, original, and chillingly prophetic slipstream milieu, an insightful and acerbic main character, and some fine writing throughout, you get the sense of a author who is not just happy to coast along.

So, why not 5 stars?

Well, although I enjoyed it as a whole, I found the middle third a bit too 'sticky'. There are a lot of characters and there is a lot of back-story - I often forgot who was who, and on a Kindle it's not so easy to flip back to check - and sometimes this back-story came at the cost of forward momentum. You would not call this novel a 'page turner'.

Still the last third does pick up pace, and both the climax and resolution are fine.

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on 3 September 2011
I was reading this when the London riots happened and the book seemed to be foretelling what would happen afterwards. So I waited until after the riots to read it to the end. Excellent book which I will re-read in a few years.
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on 11 February 2013
Fay Weldon, as ever, witty and insightful.
An uncomfortable glimpse into our possible future. This story will resonate with those of us who knew the freedoms of the 1960s.
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