Jonathan Harvey is a writer with stature. He penned the gay classic Beautiful Thing and writes for Coronation Street as well as creating the high camp sit-coms Gimme Gimme Gimme and Beautiful People. Sadly, this novel doesn’t live up to his prior reputation.
Based in Harvey’s hometown of Liverpool, the story follows three friends at two points in time. In 1985, teenage Adam is dreaming of a writing career, Jocelyn wants to be a singer whilst Kathleen’s dreams are a bit more mundane: she wants to be an embalmer. It’s all mooning over boys (Adam’s gay), mooching around and listening to Alison Moyet in teenage bedrooms. Fast-forward to 2015 and Adam’s writing career has floundered, Kathleen is a failed flight attendant who has a drink problem and Jocelyn has met a sticky end after a career as a professional bitch and celebrity Twitter troll (think Katy Hopkins but meaner).
The strongest sections of the book are the in the first half where the narrative switches between the back streets of Liverpool and Adam and Kathleen’s current lives in London. The humour is twisted and wry and when it works raises the odd snigger but never a real belly laugh. The problem comes in with the arc of the story line. It starts to peter out and feels woolly and unfocused and the humour drops down a notch or two until by the end of the novel it’s non-existent. This gradual shedding away of the comedy to reveal something darker would work well if the story line didn’t fizzle out along with it.
Harvey’s knack is often in presenting unsympathetic characters but the ones in this novel feel wooden and tired. The story switches between characters but their individual voices don’t feel strong enough to carry the plot. It’s a book that doesn’t find its place at all. It sits neither as effective comedy, drama or thriller.
A disappointing dud of a book.
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