Blackheath by Adam Baron

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Blackheath by Adam Baron

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A very clever tale of middle class parenthood and indeed, adulthood: a comedic, poignant, cringe-alongside-the-cast classic.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Myriad Editions
ISBN: 978-1908434906

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Househusband James is happy in Blackheath. He's started doing stand-up again so that he too has an achievement in his life to balance wife Alice's award winning poetry. Children Ida and Dominic are doing well so all is happy there too. Elsewhere in the area Amelia is equally happy with her actor husband Richard, her own career and children Niamh and teenage Michael. Sometimes happiness isn't enough though and, as the worlds of the two families start to mingle, fate starts to meddle with the happiness.

British author Adam Baron has been, till now, known for his crime novels from Shut Eye (1999) to It Was You (2004). However it's not surprising that he's turned to the world of metropolitan parenthood, stand-up comedy and the media for this, the novel that's already attracting accolades. After all, he's married with three children, lives in London, has been a stand-up comedian and is an in-house writer for Channel 4. How much of Blackheath is actually autobiographical? We can wonder but it's the sort of book that makes it impolite to ask.

The four people the novel concentrates on certainly have a feeling of authenticity about them. James, on a research sabbatical, splits his time between the British Library and school/nursery collection/drop offs among the yummy mummies (and nannies) in the playground. Wanting more, he goes back to something from a time when he was a different person, perhaps to unconsciously recapture that buzz of freedom.

Alice (James' wife) lectures and is beginning to see the fringe benefits from being a prize winning poet. At least she assumes they're benefits…

Across the heath, Amelia is a casting director who seems to have little confidence. This is compensated by the go-getting bluster of husband Richard. He's a wonderful father, good at his job and a mind for new projects. (No, not necessarily a good thing!)

As we absorb their lives, we smile at Amelia trying to engineer a meaningful meeting with James. (I'll never look at old children's school uniforms in the same way again.) We also understand the panic involved with emergency childcare organisation; the sort that necessitates the child going back to school a day… or two-ish… early after illness. Indeed Adam is very honest when it comes to writing about parental guilt. We may gawp at James when he tries to bat away a passing worry about his bright son befriending a less able classmate and yet… It's then we realise that by blowing the roof off the veneered homes of respectability, Adam actually reveals us, partially at least.

There are moments throughout the book during which we don’t have to be middle class in order to nod in recognition (more of those later) and among them are some we hope that none of us ever have to face. It’s not heavy going though; as well as momentary giggles, the novel comes with its own comedy grotesque. Thomasina, Queen of Royal Hill isn't the sort of mother you want to be left alone with, but she's brings us an empathetic shock and simultaneous smile.

Adam's language is wonderfully balanced, the humdrum daily vying with magical metaphors. For instance, a coat hanging off like a distracted boyfriend in love with someone else is fun and sigh-worthy at the same time.

As we head towards the literary stomach punch of the climax, we realise the novel reveals a truth without being pretentious or high falluting about it. In a real world as well as a literary version, even the most devoted couple is made up of two distinct people; each has secrets and battles relating to accommodating the tension between being an individual and being a partner. In this way, Blackheath is fascinating. In this way Blackheath is universal.

(Thank you to the folk at Myriad Editions for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals and you'd like to delve more into middle class culture and mores, we recommend A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym. If you fancy the idea of inbuilt humour in the subject then it's The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg.

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