Dirty Jokes

Julian Symons

  • Brief Lives by Anita Brookner
    Cape, 217 pp, £12.95, August 1990, ISBN 0 224 02747 6
  • Deception by Philip Roth
    Cape, 208 pp, £12.95, September 1990, ISBN 0 224 03000 0
  • Homeboy by Seth Morgan
    Chatto, 390 pp, £12.95, August 1990, ISBN 0 7011 3664 2

‘Julia died. I read it in the Times this morning... I never liked her, nor did she like me; strange, then, how we managed to keep up a sort of friendship for so long.’ The first half-dozen lines of Anita Brookner’s novel suggest the tone, straightforwardly realistic, and tell us the principal subject, the relationship between flamboyant upper-middle-class Julia and Fay, whose father was a cinema manager. The opening chapter’s ten pages enlarge on this, sketch Julia’s youthful success as a diseuse and tell us of her solicitor husband Charles’s death, mention Fay’s own glimpse of fame during the War, when she sang ‘on the wireless’ as the serious spot on comedy shows, and her marriage to Owen, a junior partner in Charles’s firm. One has the feeling too much is being given away, but that isn’t so. The framework provided by this opening chapter is essential to the way Fay’s story is told, its placing a small artistic triumph that would have been appreciated by James or Conrad.

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