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When Rip and I first fell in love, I sometimes used to imagine us as romantic characters in a great tempestuous love story set against the turbulent background of the miners’ strike, transgressing boundaries of wealth and claims to be together. I was his door into an exotic world where noble savages discussed socialism while soaping each other’s backs in t’ pit baths. He was my door into Pemberley Hall and Mansfield Park. We were so full of illusions about each other, maybe it was bound to end in a splattering.

I’m home alone this evening, which is why this review is being posted so late. See I’m someone who lacks any real self-discipline. This is why I am very lucky to be married, because if I ever slack off my wife kicks my arse. Stephanie is in Canberra today, so I have been pottering around the house, trying to convince our old dog to eat its medication, googling funny pictures with cats and generally not reviewing the book I chose this morning!

Finally I wrenched myself back to the business and found myself laughing out loud for most of this afternoon.

Georgie (aka Georgina aka Georgia aka Georgine) has been living a quiet life of writing freelance articles for a specialist magazine (“Adhesives!”), and managing to raise her two children while her husband synergises the world from his blackberry. One day something snaps. She kicks her husband out of the house, orders a skip and dumps all his belongings into it.

Which is how she comes to meet Mrs. Shapiro. An elderly Jewish lady followed by a pride of house-cats, Naomi Shapiro stops in front of Georgie’s house to retrieve Rip’s collection of classical records. The two begin a slow intimate friendship, with Georgie’s own attempts at a poisonous novel based on her own marriage dropped in favour of her new friend’s past, filled with tragic love, young lives ground up by the second world war and escape from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

Then Mrs. Shapiro has a bad fall and winds up in hospital. Georgie unwittingly has become her carer and it falls to her to have her home, stinking of cat-piss and damp, in order so that the hospital doesn’t have social services dump her friend in an institution. What began as an innocent friendship is soon swallowed up by bureaucratic fencing with hospital officials and wolfish estate agents. As Georgie slowly begins to piece together the history of Mrs Shapiro, the house itself becomes a disputed zone between several parties, all laying claim to the property. Meanwhile her own son has developed an obsession with religious prophecies about the end of the world. It is all too much for Georgie, her head swimming in eschatological trivia, disputed geography, inventive uses of velcro and, of course, the erotic uses of adhesives.

This story is warm, inventive and far cleverer than it has any right to be. The creation of the Israeli state, the Holocaust and apocalyptic prophecy, are all neatly bound up with one lonely middle-aged woman desire for a meaningful life. Throughout the novel seemingly innocent oppositions are teased out to reveal more fundamental conflict. Georgie break from Rip seems initially trivial, but the more we learn about their relationship, there appears an essential imbalance present from the very start. Her son’s pursuit of fundamentalist Christian concerns is a neat irony, showing how her hard-won parental liberalism is quick to collapse in the face of something so monolithic.

But it is Mrs Shapiro who proves to be the secret treasure of this book. Marina Lewycka‘s dialogue is quite funny and far more convincing than the tortured English of Alexander Perchov. With her random combinations of Yiddish and English slang I found her to be a far less self-conscious creation. Think Everything is Illuminated meets Sue Townsend, if you’ll pardon the high concept.

Witty, very clever and studied, a fine novel from Marina Lewycka. Strongly recommended.

Ah, the old doggie has gone to bed for the evening. That’s a relief.

Saturday July 15

I watched the Inside Downing Street documentary tonight. What a fine figure of a man he is. He is masterful, charming, clever and has a good head of hair. He is altogether impressive. Alistair Campbell is the man I would like to be.

Right today’s is going to be a quick one, as I am due to travel to Sydney by train in…an hour. Bringing some Patricia Highsmith along for the journey. No not that one! So at any rate, I chose a book I knew I could fly through. The Adrian Moles Diaries series by Sue Townsend is like a sweet, sweet pixie stick, suck it down and ask for another. I have not read any books in the series since his ‘teenage years’, so I’ve got the Blair era to look forward to.

The book’s prologue has a note from Mole himself revealing that his diaries covering the period from the end of the Millennium to the aftermath of the 9/11 was seized by police due to his being charged under Home Secretary Blunkett’s terrorism legislation. Also that horrible Townsend woman continues to stalk him and sell fictionalized accounts of his life to the BBC!

Adrian Mole is a failed poet, failed cable television chef and failed husband, currently raising two sons from different relationships. Glenn Bott-Mole at twelve is already more confident and more capable than his father, although he has inherited his mother’s dropping of ‘aitches’. This is the era of Jaimie Oliver, so he soon takes over cooking the family’s dinners in the kitchen. Adrian’s second son William, whose mother Jo-Jo has returned to Nigeria to be remarried, is worryingly sensitive and enjoys Barbie. His own parents are once again separated, having each married Pandora Braithwaite’s father and mother. Adrian’s mother is ecstatic to finally be ‘lower-upper middle class’, and her new husband Ivan’s obsession with technology is very au courant. Meanwhile Mole senior is stuck in a house filled with Millenium Dome memorabilia, plant-life and koi fish. Pandora herself of course, Adrian’s enduring love, is a local Labour MP who yearns to escape her constituents and consults him on policy as he is the perfect representative of ‘middle England’.

Adrian strikes up a doomed relationship with his social housing officer Pamela Pigg, whom he repeatedly tries to convince to change her name by deed poll. His attempts at a novel continue, accidentally plagiarizing J. K. Rowling at one point and his epic love story set during the Stone Age before the evolution of language receiving a scornful review from his son Glenn.

Somehow Mole always manages to get it wrong, despite being, as Pandora observes, perfectly English in every way. He is also, however, gullible and entirely self-deluded, a hypochondriac who drives his local GP to distraction. Now in his thirties he has not changed so much from the pretentious teenager who used to measure his penis with a ruler. Through him the disappointments of the Blair era and the beginnings of the ‘Long War’, are observed with a wry light.

I look forward to seeing how he gets out of calamitous arrest. It’s good to be back.

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