Thursday, 6 May 2010

Tropic of Ruislip by Leslie Thomas

One of the side-effects of writing a novel set in the 1970s is the occasional digression into material published at the time with an eye to catching the decade’s zeitgeist. I have previously found myself dissecting Tom Sharpe’s Wilt and recently dug out this novel from around the same period. The historical insight has been considerable. As has the growing conviction that the past really is another country...

More a loose set of vignettes than a structured novel, focused on a set of young families and their infidelities, snobberies and prejudices, Tropic of Ruislip follows the lives and loves of the better-heeled sort in Plummers Park, a new, flat-roofed executive estate outside Watford, on the right side of the Bakerloo Line.

The social highlight of the estate seems to be to a party at someone else’s house, where they get drunk and dance mournfully to Frank Sinatra. A bash at the Minnings’ involves the usual fumblings with other people’s spouses when Sinatra’s Songs for Swinging Lovers is put onto the record player, and everyone is getting tight:

People were bending this way and that, rolling and staggering too, with the dubious red and white wine that the Minnings provided, plus a bottle of scotch passed secretly around after being burgled from a locked cupboard.

Still, the evening isn’t without event. Susie Minning’s errant husband Doug appears with his West Indian girlfriend and her mates and the two groups eye each other suspiciously across the lounge carpet. It takes intervention from the Minnings’ revolting offspring to thaw things out when they appear with a tray of glasses:

...the little Minnings children appeared, charmingly bearing trays of small glasses filled with green liquid. “My God, they’ve found the crème de menthe,” shouted someone, and hands, black and white, came from all sides to grab the glasses, some to be sipped, but some, in that charged and alcoholic atmosphere, to be brazenly swallowed at a gulp. Screams and cries and bubbles followed immediately. People staggered for the kitchen, the bathroom and the toilet, or made for the open air, while clouds of bubbles great and small bounced and danced and squirted about the room. “Don’t drink it!” screamed Susie. “The little bastards! It’s Fairy Liquid!”

Finishing this book, I thought to myself that they don’t write fiction like this anymore. I can’t say that’s entirely a bad thing either.

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