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3.7 out of 5 stars9
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 16 September 2008
It seems like the very breath of freedom when we read of the history of Teresa Sullivan. The allusions to child abuse aside, the tales of her cavorting with gypsies and drinking 20 pints of scrumpy a night offer a genuinely exciting contrast to the 4-square 'normal' family life which forms the history of the Fowler and Croney families. And when Henry's world has been systematically deconstructed down to a void and he comes into contact with the colourful Ms Sullivan, it is as though a whole new world of possibilities opens up for him. He can now escape the bland suburban world of traffic management, toasted sandwiches and tooled leather - by the end of the book he has found a voice and a new determination. This is a novel full of humour and vivid imagination. The characters and events spring from the page with life-like precision, and Meades ties them together into a neat bow. Autobiography creeps in in terms of subject matter and character. Meades himself has a fascination with South East London, where the novel is staged, and says that he enjoys exploring it as would an anthropologist. In terms of the characters, one of the characters (Freddy Glade) shares Meades' birthday, and Henry Fowler was born to relatively elderly parents, as was Meades. Very higly recommended.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 September 2009
One senses that, rather against his highly developed will, Jonathan Meades comes to feel a measure of sympathy for his hero, Henry Fowler. This goes against the grain of the work which is to a high extent irredeemably and blackly scurrilous, politically incorrect and hilariously funny. The story begins with two boys, Stanley and Henry, as unlike each other as it is possible to be, but nevertheless thrown together by playground alchemy. Henry is a plodder, dutiful, correct and destined for the family funeral director's business - he has the right gravitas for one thing, whereas Stanley is a snappy dresser, a girl chaser, a sunny wide-boy. That Henry is responsible for Stanley's death is so subtly brought about that one could be forgiven for missing it - I read the short passage twice before I was sure.

Henry's story continues - a good marriage, children, friendship of a much more congenial nature with Stanley's younger brother Curly, and a fateful night on a Cornish hillside. Later in their lives everything they believe and cling to begins to disintegrate before their eyes, and the pitiless truth is revealed, making life accumulatively disastrous, particularly for Henry.

Meade has a way with words that is adroit, clever and heartless. He has wit and intelligence used almost entirely for malice. He is the least empathetic of writers and is often uncomfortably grim in his view of humanity. I laughed aloud more than once but also rather guiltily. Malignity is not a substitute for truth when we write about human beings. It's one way of looking at them - one extreme along a continuum perhaps. Funny doesn't have to be this bleak. But I have to say it was the best read I've had in ages.
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on 10 February 2002
If you like your comedy pitch black and flecked with bilious satire, Jonathan Meades is the author for you. In this typically picaresque, wantonly episodic and determinedly schematic novel, Meades launches an unremitting attack on Middle England and its dubious values. Family man Henry Fowler's life is systematically torn apart, forcing him to think outside the narrow, self deluding constraints of his upbringing and the suburban millieu of which he is obsessively fond. Meades is an acquired and pungent taste, his hectoring prose style and aggressively atheist, sadistically bleak view of England owing more to avant garde European literature than the English canon. But no one is better at showing us the insects cowering under the stones of our preconceptions about England, no-one better depicts the squalid, off the beaten track horrors of this parochial little land.
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on 14 July 2003
I read "Pompey" some years ago and vowed never to read another word Meades wrote, because I found it such tough going.
This, however, is a refreshingly amusing, biting, yet ultimately very moving satire on the nature of middle-class respectability.
It questions our sense of belonging and identity and ultimately our ability to love, in a manner made more noteworthy by Meades' uncanny ability to capture and convey detail.
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on 17 August 2011
This is a great story, what you think is an irrelevant piece of the story comes back later with significance. Very well written and very dark, good use of the English language, what else would you expect from Jonathan Meades.
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on 4 June 2014
meades is impossible . He writes for the sheer love of writing and ,like powell , never flatters or treats his readers as nincompoops.
This is a man you'd want to be with in yer salad days . god he'd cheer you up no end and the tales ...........
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on 27 August 2014
An easy, light, and enjoyably dirty confection. To be read solely for pleasure. Meades at his bizarre best. Dangerously funny.
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on 16 April 2011
The book is light enough to cary in your briefcase, the dictionary you need to understand the damn thing will require you to be accompanied by a ten ton truck.
Like his documentaries you know something clever is going down but arent quite sure what ?

I will make my 3rd attempt to read this when I am at home and can google the big words, maybe I should have stuck in at school.
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on 30 January 2013
a dystopian view owing more to Roget than narrative. I read reviews before buying and decided that they were unfairly critical so gave Meade the benefit of the doubt, I was wrong.
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