Philip Womack

A Social Merman

Utterly Monkey


Fourth Estate 344pp £10.99 order from our bookshop

Nick Laird’s debut novel, which follows his poetry collection To a Fault, is a well-paced and intelligent tale about culture clashes, terrorism and, er, due diligence. Told with a roughened elegance and sprinkled with phrases of unexpected beauty (a cigarette makes a ‘seahorse of smoke’), it concerns a five-day period in the life of Danny Williams, who is, as Laird once was, a young litigator at a Magic Circle law firm; also like Laird, Williams was born in Northern Ireland and read History at Cambridge (‘there was so much of it’, he had mused when deciding what to study), although he does not seem to have any poetic or literary ambitions. He is a ‘social merman: pinstriped lower, denimed upper’, and this uneasy friction between disparate parts is a main theme of the novel – evidenced in particular by the contrasts between his smart new London life and his gritty Northern Irish childhood, and by the tensions between corporate policy and individual freedom. 

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