A few weeks after his arrival in London, country-boy Horace Littlefair sheds his grandfather's tweeds for the synthetic accouterments of hip-hop style, but cannot shake the provincial integrity of his upbringing. An innocent youth from the village of Great Must, Horace blunders comically through Theroux's first novel: his failed efforts to join the chemical generation are matched only by his bungled attempts as a journalist at the South London Bugle, the newspaper owned by his striving, blow-hard great-uncle Derwent Boothby. After losing his first love interest--a lovely Pole named Jana--to the immigration authorities, and finding himself relegated to writing the Bugle's garden column, Horace accepts an assignment to profile one of London's centenarians--the ancient Agnes Kettle--and the plot heats up. Soon after Horace interviews her, Mrs. Kettle is visited by zealous Trevor Diamond, head of a one-man campaign to save the urban fox. Horace starts to write puff pieces about Trevor, and the two fall into an uneasy, malt-hazed collaboration. When--shades of Ian McEwan's recent Booker Prize novel, Amsterdam--MP Barnaby Colefax is caught with a prostitute, a conspiracy to cover it up drives Colefax and Diamond into each other's arms. Meanwhile, Horace plays Scrabble with his landlord, Mr. Narayan, agonizes over Narayan's wayward daughter Lakshmi and starts to fall for a smart, hard-boiled city girl. The quippy, English humor of this novel supplements its loose, picaresque style. As a satirist, Theroux is often very sharp; he is, however, sometimes a bit ham-handed, as when Horace's devastating hangover is followed, after a section break, by the old A.A. meeting standard, ""My name is Richard and I'm an alcoholic."" Still, Theroux's fun poking is genuinely appealing. He is deeply sympathetic to London's motley denizens, and is an ambitious architect of plot. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999 Release date: 08/01/1999 Genre: Fiction
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