John Lanchester (Faber £l6.99) People are raving about Mr Phillips.
John Lanchester's follow-up to his Whitbread Award-winning debut novel, The Debt To Pleasure, is being hailed as a masterpiece. Lanchester's subject — the eponymous accountant — seems wholly unremarkable yet the day he spends wandering about London after he loses his job is astonishing in the extreme.
‘There’s so much about British life that's undescribed and under- reported,‘ says Lanchester. ‘That's amazing for a country that talks and writes about itself so much. So I really wanted to write about a middle-aged white man and inhabit his world.’
This vivid creation may well join other figures in the literary hall of fame: Leopold Bloom, Willy Loman, Holden Caulfield. But where does Mr Phillips come from? ’He isn't based on anyone I've known,’ offers Lanchester. 'I suppose you could say he's based on a predicament. There was a famous murder case on Wimbledon Common. The police charted everyone moving about the Common that day and cross- indexed who saw who. The person who kept coming up was a guy in a suit who was just sitting on a
Literary benchmark: John Lanchester
bench. That’s what set me wondering about what might happen to men who lose their jobs and are cut off like that.’
During Mr Phillips' off-peak sojourn through previously unavailable parts of London, he stalks a TV celebrity, visits a Soho porn cinema and is involved in a bank robbery. These escapades allow Lanchester to make numerous observations about modern day life, and one in particular.
'He'd be 54 this year and I’m 37,’ he comments. ’I’m not that much younger than Mr Phillips, but young enough for one thing to be really different: expecting to have a job for life. That’s a huge change that's happened in Britain in the last half generation. Men
tend to define themselves through their work and that's become a much more difficult thing to do. I was hoping to draw attention to this extraordinary shift in a basic assumption. So while the book is set in the recent past, there’s an historical aspect to Mr Phillips.’
Surprisingly perhaps, Mr Phillips is an uplifting read. That's largely down to the novel's protagonist: ‘Mr Phillips is not a rigid man, but he's had a rigid life,’ says Lanchester. 'He's not narrow-minded but, in some ways, he'd be better off if he was. The reason his redundancy is so painful is that he’s so open to it. He‘s aware of what Buddhists call the 'open dimension’, in which anything can happen.’ (Miles Fielder)
I Mr Phillips is published on Mon 24 jan.
Something For The
’ Weekend Pauline McLynn (Headline £9.99)
Divine write: Pauline Mclynn
88 THE UST 20 Jan-3 Feb 2000
They're all it at these days, those comedians. They get a few laughs on telly or on stage and they think they’re James Joyce. For this we can probably blame/thank those ’alternative comedy’ Circuiters, Ben, Hugh, Aleer and Adrian.
Not that their books were particularly bad. Indeed, they forced the later comedian/novelists to come up with a fresh approach to get their own heads floating above water. For Pauline McLynn, best known as the tea- brewing obsessive Mrs Doyle in Father Ted, her genre choice is crime. ’I’m sure some of them will tell you differently, but Irish private detectives get a lot of mundane stuff to do — infidelity, insurance fraud, a nice bit of illegal adoption, that kind of thing,’ insists McLynn. ’So, we catch Leo Street (her female private eye) just as she is
turning 30 and wondering what it’s all about’
And what Something For The Weekend tMcLynn would prefer you think of the Dryine Comedy tune than the Denise Van Outen show) is all about is the rights and wrongs of surveillance, putting your past behind you and being forced to go on cookery courses.
It's a light-hearted caper not in the tradition of her favourite thriller writers (from Dashiell Hammett to John Connolly): ’I don’t have that complicated, serpentine mind you need,’ she maintains. ’And then there’s the sex thing; you don’t want people to think that’s your sex life, unless it‘s absolutely fabulous. And I’m keeping that to myself.’ (Brian Donaldson)
l Something For The Weekend is published on Thu 3 Feb. See Book events, next issue.
Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Zadie Smith Who she? Zadie Smith was born in 1975 in North West London uhere we still l:ves Legend has it that \\li.ll \Mis to become the 24-year—otd's t-rst now! was snapped up by Pentium after .i mere 80 pages had been ‘.".Illlt‘l‘
Her debut It's called Iii/hire Teeth and follows the fortunes of three I\Ir)ttl‘. London families lthe ltibals‘, Joneses and Chalfens‘; whose lives bet oriie inextricany intertmned tlii‘otitih 'tllt"' errant offspring The saga begins with the unlikely friendship whir h blossorm between Saniari and Art hibald (the respective patriart its of the tribals (l'itI Joneses) during World \’\‘ar ll
Basically . Basit -lII\, it’s a l‘lllt‘Iy, perceptive and, more often than not, comic look at the hopes, tears and cultural confusion of first and ser one generation immigrants in 90s It.()i'l(I()l' It also tackles the ever—newsworthy issues of multiculturalism, identity, gender, eugenics, extremism and genetics.
First line test 'farly in the rnnriiirrg, late in the century, Crit klewoorl Broadway.’
Cast list Millat, IVId()l(f, Sarriad and Alsana Iqbal, an Asian/English lariiily, Archie, Clara and Irie Jones, an Eritilish/ AfroCarribean family, and Joyce and Marcus Chalfen, white, liberal, rmddle class do--gooders.
Grand claims corner Salrnan Rushdie is a big fan ’Zadie Smith‘s fir/int; first novel is about how we all go! here and what “here” turned out to be it . an astonishingly assmed debut, fiirir, and serious, and the voice has real writerly idiosyncrasy It h. ,liite To whom the book is dedicated “it; my mother and my father and for Jun: Rahrn'an.’
What next Ms Smith .s presently embarking on a second novel whit ll focuses on autograph traders
I White Teeth IS published by Harri/sir Hamilton on Thu 27 Jan, [)fl: erl