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Notting Hell Hardcover – 31 Aug 2006
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Shiveringly brilliant (Jilly Cooper)
An addictively funny read about the lives of the rich and richer **** (Heat)
A wickedly funny comedy of modern manners (OK!) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From the Inside Flap
A spot of extra-marital with a close neighbour is one thing.
We're all grown-ups here. But selling a rare-to-the-market mid-Victorian
house - not merely a house, but our children's ancestral family home - on a
communal garden, the sort of house that a banker would trample over his own
grandmother to spend his City bonus on is another thing entirely! It's...
wrong. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
It's a lovely soapy wash of a book set in those hallowed money-washed precincts where all the mummies (escept Mimi) are yummy and a delicious expensive snack is only a short walk away. I loved the detail, though some of the early clothes references got a bit tedious - we know Clare is rich, we get it, we don't need every designer's name.
It is quite a smile-a-thon as you recognise the types of people and their traits. In some ways it could have been set in any middle-England village. Mimi probably has the most interesting journey as she gets sexually infatuated with her billionaire. Her little escape from the regularity of her life makes it seem all the more precious as she discovers the age-old male proclivity of moving onto the next one.
Rachel Johnson keeps Clare's journey a little more under wraps, so you are not quite sure by what method she eventually achieves her goal. I loved the set pieces like the garden committee meeting and bonfire night.
Glass of Pinot Grigio, sofa, warm fire and this book - you're well away!
But the novel seems to be made of sterner stuff! I was totally surprised that not only was it not as feckless and show-offy as I had feared, it was really accomplished. The point of view technique of how the two narrators see each other is brilliantly executed and manages to move the action along as well as being rather hilarious. I also liked the way the time-line was skilfully used to allow for flash-backs, filling in gaps in the narrative and thereby changing the pace of the plot. A few hiccups remain -one really doesn't want to read the expression "A-listers" in a novel, and the animal attraction of Mimi to billionaire Si sounds a bit ropey. Still - I was massively impressed how Rachel Johnson manages to write a novel which is funny, entertaining , thoroughly modern and still retains elements of a now sadly nostalgic seeming English wholesomeness and wistfulness.
Johnson is clearly sending herself up as well as her nearby neighbours who must have a sense of humour since no one appears to have taken her to court yet.
It might not be worthy, serious literature but it had me laughing out loud, sometimes in horrified recognition and it's definitely a massive cut above much of the tedious chick lit out there.
It goes without saying that most readers will not know this life, or feel remotely sympathetic towards any of the characters, so it may be best to view them as being as weird as Desperate Housewives or bankers in Manhattan. The story is told through the eyes of two fortyish wives living on "Lonsdale Gardens", whose pistachio-painted mansions all back onto one of the areas famous private gardens. Clare is the childless wife of a modern architect remarkably similar to Johnson's neighbour (as we know from her columns), John Paulson, and Mimi sounds rather like Johnson herself being an "impoverished" mother of three and freelance journalist who can afford her house only because her posh husband Ralph inherited it back when NH was full of poor Afro-Caribbeans. Now it's a life of "haves and have-yachts", in which interior decoration is carried out on an annual basis and if one Mummy gets a swimming pool in her basement, everyone else must get one too.
The plot is pretty simple. Mimi falls for billionaire new neighbour Si Kasparian and enjoys a brief adulterous affair with him until discovering he's also shagging the gorgeous teacher at Ponsonby Prep. Clare is unaware that her husband is trying it on with every woman but her, but falls for Mimi's husband - a man so stuffily Old Etonian that he prefers fly-fishing to conversation. In the space of a year, their friendship, neighbours, spouses and children go through a succession of feuds, rivalries, gossip and scandal all revolving around the "Garden of Eden" that is their back yard.
As you might expect from this clever, witty columnist the detail of their lives is more riveting than what they do with it. Being able to pop into your neighbours for a cup of pine nuts and some Italian 000 flour might sound like bliss but not only does it mean it's open season on adultery and scandal-mongering but everyone is in a frenzy of competitiveness. Your children must be either gifted or Special Needs; you need not just a Nanny but a housekeeper and a cleaner; you have your window-boxes feng shuied; you have incessant food intolerances that means you only eat £80 joints of lamb and never allow your children to touch sugar....it goes on and on. Hideously funny and weirdly compelling, they are exactly the kind we are supposed to admire and emulate, according to the media. The author knows them inside-out, and like Balzac is more than half seduced by them even as she eviscerates their idiotic routines, mindless consumption, holier-than-thou eco-friendliness (involving having three cars and your own Lear jet). Johnson's Mimi is forced to sell up and move to the country for a "simple" life of the kind Marie Antoinette no doubt envisaged when dressing as a shepherdess. Notting Hell is much nastier than it may appear beneath the oleaginous descriptions of lovely Johnny Boden, Kate Moss, Emma Freud etc., and should be distributed by the Labour Party to remind us all of just what, precisely, David Cameron really stands for.