Meeting the English, by Kate Clanchy, (Thomas Dunne Books, Macmillan), 320 pages, released 3 March, 2015
Meeting the English is a modern-day (set in 1989) comedy of manners: country bumpkin meets city slickers, but the bumpkin is more than he first appears and the slickers aren’t all that slick. In this case, “Bumpkin” means hailing from a mining town in central Scotland that no longer has a mine; “Slicker” means residing in London, convinced that one’s own sensitivity/intellect is superior to others’.
Struan Robertson (pronounced, STREW-in, not Strew-ANNE; it’s not an iamb) an exceptionally gifted student, planning to pursue a career in dentistry, takes a summer job working as an assistant to a fading playwright who has recently suffered a stroke. The playwright, Phillip Prys, is surrounded by a largely dysfunctional grouping of family and friends. His ex-wife (and mother of his two children) is a former actress, now losing money flipping houses (as we would put it today) in London’s falling real estate market. His current wife, a formerly wealthy refugee from Iran, paints post-modern Persian miniatures. His son is a self-absorbed want-to-be playwright who’s just been rusticated (in other words, kicked out for a year) from Oxford. His daughter is angry and lonely, sure she’ll never find love or happiness. His daughter’s best friend is a recovering anorexic. His agent is a semi-closeted gay man who finds Phillip demanding more and more time, while bringing in less and less revenue.
Hilarity (mostly) ensues. Some find love; some get their comeuppence; all are changed.
This is a great book to pick up when you want to laugh (not too unkindly) at others’ foibles. The style is breezy. The plot holds some surprises. If you’re starting to dream of vacation reading as you wait for winter to end, this book would be a fun title to put on your list.