Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy
|Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Struan Robertson is one of the most compelling characters I've encountered in a while and the book would be worth reading for the pleasure of meeting him - but it's also beautifully written.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: May 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
Struan Robertson was just seventeen, but set to go to Aberdeen to study dentistry, when his English teacher passed him a short advertisement. A literary giant needed a carer. Why not take a gap year? Struan had never been to England before and he would be living in Hampstead. On the plus side he'd been working in a care home to earn money and he could do the work. Soon - almost too soon - Struan was the main carer for Phillip Prys, rendered dumb and paralysed by a massive stroke. His family couldn't take care of him - the young (very young) third wife was too busy with her painting. His son, Jake, had other things - anything else - to do rather than be in his father's presence. Juliet had never been her father's favourite but she wasn't exactly stable when it came to helping.
Then there was Myfanwy, the first wife who never seemed to have left the Prys house. In fact, the care and renovation of the property (to her own taste and wishes) seemed to be her obsession, her life's work and if she has to be a little ingenious about how it's all funded then that's just how things are. It was the blisteringly hot summer of 1989 and the world was changing, walls were about to fall.
There's a certain irony in the title as there are remarkably few English in the book. Phillip had escaped from the Welsh valleys on the basis of his most famous work The Pit and its Men which Struan had just studied for his Scottish Highers. Myfanwy had come with him, to be abandoned if not separated from, when wife number two appeared. Wife number three - Shirin - is Iranian and made her escape from Iran courtesy of her grandmother's jewellery and just in front of the Ayatollahs.
This might be Kate Clanchy's debut novel but the experience gained from more than twenty years of award-winning poetry and writing short stories is clear to see. Every word in the book counts and earns its place. It's character driven with no great twists or revelations in the plot but it works, primarily because of the character of Struan. He's grown up quickly - his mother left when he was young and he nursed his dying father. 'Home' is with his grandmother. He has few clothes - and most of them are not, er, what one would wear in Hampstead. Money is something to be careful with, but somehow the character of the man shines through. There's a neat contrast with Jake Prys - they're physically very similar but complete opposites morally.
The lack of a big plot could have made this a slow read but it sped by, largely because of the character of Struan and the sheer quality of the writing. Meeting the English has rightly been shortlisted for the 2013 Costa First Novel Award - my fingers are crossed there - and I'm looking forward to Clanchy's next novel.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a cop to the Bookbag.
For another writer exploring the ways in which the English are different, have a look at Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson.
You can read more book reviews or buy Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy at Amazon.com.
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