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It's 2008 and things are on the up for the Howe family. Sherard Howe, patriarch, art lover and lefty-wing publisher is relishing the power that comes from being well-connected. Wife Daphne is about to publish her second book. Her first, a feminist tome from the 1960s, is still remembered; something that she won't be grateful for. Their son Henry is about to get a well-paid tutoring job and Afua, their informally adopted black African daughter has political ambitions. However, not everyone dreams of lofty heights. Henry and Afua's poet friend Buzzy just wants to bed Afua's bloke Marcel. They'd all best enjoy their plans and achievements while they can: the nation's on the cusp of change and so, it seems, are their fortunes.

Barbarians by Tim Glencross

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A political/arts world satire that swings from accounts of awful people I had problems engaging with to deliciously dark moments of insight and humour. A debut from a writer with flashes of talent whose best is yet to come.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: May 2014
Publisher: John Murray
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444788525

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Debut novelist Tim Glencross studied at Cambridge University, was an MP's researcher and speechwriter and is now a lawyer working in an EU consultancy. Therefore he knows what he's writing about in this satirical look at the press, the lives of those caught up in the Parliamentary orbit, the artistic glitterati and the downright posh. He's set before us a novel divided into two parts; first mapping the family and friends' rise and then, a few years later, we revisit to see that life hasn't been kind to them. There again, they haven't been too kind to life.

This is a satire of the grotesque populated by awful people (with only three exceptions I could spot). On the whole, they're pretentious seekers of selfish goals and pleasures. Yes, people like Marcel, the bad bed-mannered boyfriend do exist as do people like the anti-socially foibled Sherard. My problem is that I found them to be so awful as to be unengaging. Also in some places (like the initial party chapters where name dropping goes a little over the top), it's a little overwritten and confusing.

However, all is not lost, even by my modest reckoning. As I mentioned, there are some who don't fit in the bad/boring mould to the extent that I wanted to airlift them out of the novel for their own protection, Henry being one. He's lovely; so easily led and driven by doing the right thing that he's torn between his conscience and pacifying those around him. He's a chap totally undeserving of his family and relationships which can be muddling. (Trying to work out who is what to whom isn't made any easier by the girls joking about their place in the family in the first section but all becomes clearer with respect to that in the second half.)

I also love the amusingly Lady Bracknell-esque Sanaa, aunt of the Middle Eastern lad Henry tutors. It's during her visit and also the visit of Buzzy's parents that Tim excels and flies. If this novel was shorter, elaborating on the pithy while decluttering the verbosity this would be a wonderful showcase and more apt to appeal to The Thick of It fans that it mentions in the book blurb.

I hope I'm not being unkind after all this is Tim's debut novel. The best is yet to come and, having seen flashes of his brilliance here, I'm looking forward to what he writes for us next.

Thank you, John Murray, for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If you enjoy a satire lampooning the privileged, why not go back to the master Evelyn Waugh?.

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