Business tycoon Sir Jack Pitman turns the Isle of Wight into a heritage theme park full of replicas of all England's history from Stonehenge to the Royal Family, from Robin Hood to Manchester United. But things begin to go wrong when the actors playing the historical characters start to become the characters themselves.
Martha Cochrane lands a plum job on the Planning team and begins an affair with Paul the Ideas Catcher. But a relationship begun at work is not necessarily fit for purpose at home.
I think this is Barnes attempting a comic novel. It reminded me of Evelyn Waugh's Scoop. But, fittingly for a book whose core idea is that of authenticity and replicas, it is a poor imitation of Scoop.
For me, the essential problem (and this is ironic in a book that deals with the morphing of characters, 'I am as I behave') was that the fictional characters in whom I was supposed to believe were mainly stereotypes. Sir Jack is the perfect example, the clichéd corporate boss, complete with his concealed but rumoured to be humble origins, his belligerence, his vanity and his infantile sexual tastes. Dr Max is the ultimate television historian with his ambivalent sexual orientation, his long sentences full of academic words, his buffed, sometimes lacquered fingernails and his slight, possibly affected, speech impediment. Kingy-Thingy is the standard lecherous male, probably played by Leslie Phillips. Paul the ideas catcher is Mr Corporate Subservient, a façade for people to bounce off. Only Martha makes any attempt at reality.
The plot is all really rather predictable too.
Despite the fact that this was nominated for the 1998 Booker, won by Amsterdam, I thought this was a very disappointing contribution from the man who wrote A Sense of an Ending.
February 2016; 266 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57