🙂 🙂 🙂
Duncan Neville is the owner and editor of the Francombe & Salter Mecury, a regional newspaper that has been in his family for generations but is now struggling to survive in the era of online news. Francombe is a (fictional) English seaside resort, popular in its Victorian heyday but with its glory days well behind it. Duncan has been campaigning to have the old Victorian pier renovated, but now it has been bought over by a property developer who plans to turn it into an adults only zone based on the sleazier side of life. Duncan’s personal life is as decayed as the town – his marriage broken, his relationship with his teenage son difficult, and his mother and sister expecting to continue to live well off the income from the family business, while Duncan himself is reduced to living in the flat above the newspaper offices. However, things begin to look up when he meets the lovely Ellen…
At first, I thought I was really going to enjoy this book. It starts off well, with an introduction to the remaining small staff of the newspaper and a good depiction of the run-down state of the resort. Duncan is portrayed as an upholder of tradition trying, Canute-like, to hold back the tides of change. The prose is gentle and flowing and interspersed with some nice observational humour.
However, I’m afraid this early positive impression soon wore off. What at first seems gentle soon turns into dull, and the nostalgic tone of the book veers uncomfortably close to sentimentality. Even the humour begins to feel as if it has been inserted artificially, rather than arising from the natural flow. In the beginning it feels as if Duncan is going to be a campaigner, fighting for the things he believes in, but as the book goes on, he turns out to be just a rather overwhelmed middle-aged man, not very good at relationships or business…or anything, really. His attitudes seem blinkered and far too old-fashioned for a man of his age, and frankly, he whinges. His ‘leader articles’ from the paper are inserted between the chapters of the book. I assume these are meant to give an insight into Duncan’s character and his mildly left-wing principles, but they feel like a device for the author to make his own political points rather than having much to do with the thrust of the story.
The story itself (I deliberately haven’t used the word plot) meanders slowly on in a downward spiral, touching too lightly on some serious subjects – anti-immigrant feelings, homophobia, porn etc. I suspect the correct response of the reader is to shake her head, click her tongue and sigh over the iniquities of modern life. This reader, however, found that she was sighing over the superficiality of the book. The premise is interesting and so much could have been done with it to take a look at some of the real problems faced by people living in towns whose historical function has gone, but I feel the opportunity was missed. Instead, we get a kind of mini middle-class family saga, with Duncan’s curiously emotionless relationships taking centre stage, and all leading up to an ending so sickly sweet one questions if even Dickens would have dared do it.
Overall, not a bad book – the writing is fine and some of the points it raises are interesting. But the execution doesn’t live up to the promise and in the end I was left disappointed and rather relieved that it was over.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Arcadia Books Ltd.