Customer Review

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warm and touching contemporary tale of London life, 16 July 2011
This review is from: Eleven (Paperback)
Xavier Ireland, a moniker created for himself by the unassuming Chris Cotswold, is a night-time radio chat show host who offers his calm wisdom over the airwaves whilst the city "sleeps, snacks, paces, sweats, fights and breathes its way" through the night. The letters XI are significant for Xavier as the Greek word that won him a scrabble contest and being the Roman script for eleven, also his house number (with all these classical references it's a wonder he didn't choose the surname "Iliad" or some such, but no matter).

The story has two main threads, one focusing on Xavier himself and his relationships with the various people in his life: his stammering radio sidekick Murray, his old childhood friends (through flashback), his new girlfriend, his neighbours and of course the listeners to whom Xavier's show is a source of comfort as much as entertainment; the other exploring a range of secondary characters whose lives are affected, chaos-theory style, by a chain of events nominally kick-started by Xavier's action (or rather, inaction) one winter's afternoon.

Watson's style is perfect for this contemporary tale - offbeat and quirky, but with a humanity that shines through his characters in a manner that avoids being melodramatic or patronising. Themes of friendship, rejection, loyalty, heartbreak and loneliness run through the book, holding together a plot which, by nature, can feel somewhat contrived on occasion. Many of the supporting characters are loosely-defined but those central to Xavier's life (especially the ever-optimistic but vulnerable Murray and the once ambitious Pippa) are drawn with genuine pathos and warmth.

This is not a "laugh out loud funny" book; indeed, it addresses some fairly serious issues such as social rejection, depression, insecurity and the everyday struggles of life as a single parent. But it's all done with a wry observation and gentle humour which explores the characters' motivations, fears and hopes for the future. Xavier himself, content to hide behind his fake identity ("There's something about the anonymity of the show...about maintaining a division between the people who tune in and solicit his advice, and the people who can hear his choice of TV show, and his bath water escaping through the pipes") is encouraged to address his own demons, his past mistakes, and to accept himself for the person is. Indeed, he is not the only character whose public face hides an inner turmoil; self-acceptance is perhaps the most significant theme of Eleven and the one which delivers its most touching moments.

Negatives? I agree with some other reviewers about the ending, which feels a little hasty and unsatisfying; also, the suggestion that one event can have such profound consequences is perhaps a little simplistic and is best viewed as a literary device rather than a precis of cause and effect. Still, this is a good book overall, one which is neither too lightweight to be trivial nor too heavy to lose its comic identity. Good effort Mark!
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