The publisher of this novel praises its ‘darkly English humour’. Well, it is certainly dark enough by the end, and I suppose you could, if you tried hard enough, find the beginning quite amusing. Not quite the very beginning, though, where the dying Clifford Coyle rather fondly remembers raping a girl. If you read on for a further 350-odd pages you will discover that as a sixteen-year-old in the 1960s, and a hitherto timid, virginal and not overly bright type, Clifford takes the girl, Mary, out for the very first time on a sightseeing bus ride in London, and somehow persuades her to go away with him on a ferry to Jersey. During the voyage he bribes a uniformed steward with two pounds to conduct a mock wedding, with a bit of twisted silver paper serving for a ring. He then gets so carried away in a boarding house on Jersey that he brutally rapes Mary. She seems to have no very great objection to this, believing them to be married; she is, however, horrified to find that he is a Protestant. Now, if you can believe any of this, even of a girl like Mary, who is naïve to the point of imbecility, you will believe anything. The point about a work of fiction, you see, is that it has to appear to be true, or at least credible within some accepted notion of human conduct.
But to return to the start. The novel concerns the Coyle family: Arthur (father), Gillian (mother), Annette (daughter), and Clifford (son). The story begins in the Fifties and is told, by way of interior monologues, by this quartet. Clifford, who at the outset is only eight years old, witters on