John Murray’s novels present a certain problem for the reviewer, one which should be clear from a summary of his latest.
The Legend of Liz and Joe is about an elderly Cumbrian couple. Joe, the narrator, is seventy-three, vegetarian, polymathic and cantankerous. He runs a bistro-cum-guesthouse whose restrictive entrance policy demands that prospective customers write a sufficiently witty and engaging application before being allowed in. Joe is a harsh judge, so unsurprisingly the place is losing money. Liz, his wife, has had an affair for the first time in their married life (with a dishy toy-boy of sixty-two whom she met at a gig), although she now regrets it. More worryingly for her, she has also begun having religious visions. Liz loves Joe but is exasperated by his lack of commercial nous and his tendency to become irritated with almost anything.
In between telling us these biographical facts and firing off diatribes and asides about everything from the humdrumness of modern society to the vagaries of language, Joe reveals his greatest hope, namely a £50,000 first prize offered by a rich businessman to the writer of the best story