It was followed by a glut of imitators, few whom lived up to the original – who, let’s be fair, had its detractors in legions. The shelves of bookshops became crammed with candy coloured paperbacks invariably featuring the obligatory depiction of a wine glass, high heel, handbag or other indicator of the comical frippery contained within and, unsurprisingly a slew of the imaginatively titled ‘lad lit’ followed. Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons et al ploughed a steady trade in male ﬁrst person ‘sensitive’ ﬁction, but for the most part they trod a rather more pious path and never came close to emulating the bawdiness that was endemic to the best parts of Bridget Jones.
Luke Bitmead’s White Summer, published by local publishing company Legend Press (see interview with Tom Chalmers, page 35), goes someway to redressing the balance. Charting the drunken course of Guy Chambers’ summer, Bitmead’s narrative wittily captures the life of a man in his late twenties struggling with his parents’ perception of his underachieving job in a travel agent and, of course, trying to win the girl. Despite the frivolity of much of the book, Bitmead tackles with subtlety and humour issues such as Guy’s depressive younger sister, his mother’s illness and subsequent death and his father’s new girlfriend. He manages to give due import to all of these situations without the narrative ever feeling laboured. Guy’s desperate pursuit of the delicious but married mother of two, Daisy, is amusingly portrayed, and his complete inability to stop shagging the annoying Kathy, despite his infatuation with Daisy, has a depressing smack of reality about it.
My suspension of disbelief waned somewhat with the detailed documentation of Guy’s alcohol intake. Keen to stress the boozy, hangover-ridden life of his main character, Guy often drinks two bottles of wine at lunch, shows up for work completely inebriated after imbibing a few whiskies to pep up his morning, and suffers blackouts with alarming regularity. There’s no suggestion of anything awry in this hearty consumption of alcohol, and one is left feeling the twenty-something lifestyle is being somewhat over-egged – or I’m completely missing the party.
The action continues apace with the additional traumas of Guy’s ﬂashy, City-boy best friend dating said vulnerable sister, the emergence of Daisy’s husband Peter and his offer of a dream job to the tempted Guy, and dreadful Kathy’s pregnancy scare, all of which threaten to completely destroy the equilibrium and keep the plot twisting and turning.
Guy is certainly a bit of an idiot and he blunders his way through life but ultimately White Summer leaves you rooting for him – and trying to put your finger on who he reminds you of.
Legend Press, £6.99
Minute particles of dirt that had lodged themselves in between thin ﬁbres of silk. Her everyday activity of walking, sitting, standing still caused a rancid tide that leftundesirable marks, whose pattern sprawled like a personal disease across her garment. Too far from her birth land for her muted utterances to be deciphered, and thewrong shape for this. She wore a tattered ﬂag for India.
Unkempt feet, half housed in black slip-on shoes. Gold-rimmed glasses that seemed they had, at one time, chastised and educated disinterested and rebelliouschildren.
‘I ordered a wardrobe from the shop across the road. They have not delivered it to my home. What can I do?’‘Its not really my department.’ I carried on emptying dirty ashtrays into a grey metal pail.‘Have you been in to see them?’‘It has been three months and they keep saying they can’t deliver... I pay money... everything. Every time I call they say not this time, maybe next.’‘Oh dear’‚ I say.
Growing more perplexed she sipped her coke and ﬁddled with the fraying edge of her dress. Pulling at stray threads of red cotton, wrapping and unwrapping themaround the crevices of deep brown skin upon her ﬁngers. A compulsive, unconscious movement that stemmed an intangible frustration and complexity. Her arrival anddeparture to this destination uninvited and undesired. The lines that furrowed her brow cast a permanent gaze and expression, suggestive to voyeurs and passers-by:‘my ticket says elsewhere, anywhere, not here’.
Rather, once deposited in this unfamiliar terrain, she clambered into the small space between the nape and the bottom of her skull. A retreat where girls’ laughter echoes along marble hallways, and wooden slats against pane-less windows shut out the unbearable heat of the midday sun.
She shufﬂed various objects further into her overﬂowing handbag. Scrunched-up bits of tissue, the buckle of a shoe and scraps of paper bearing illegible lists. Muttering,shaking her head, she disappeared through the open door.
Once, in the pouring rain, she was seen. Her ﬁ ngers lifting the hem of her skirt, revealing white plastic sandals and some manufactured ﬂ ower where toe and shoe meet. Thin heels disturbing still pools of rain on Stokey concrete. One foot in front of the other. Oblivious. The rain a mere inconvenience between the steps of her feet.
This is the ﬁrst in a series of articles which observe, and reﬂect on, people and life in Stoke Newington. The author lives and works in N16.