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Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy

Meeting the English

by Kate Clanchy

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Meeting the English is a modern-day (set in 1989) comedy of manners: country bumpkin meets city slickers, but the bumpkin is more than he first appears and the slickers aren’t all that slick. In this case, “Bumpkin” means hailing from a mining town in central Scotland that no longer has a mine; “Slicker” means residing in London, convinced that one’s own sensitivity/intellect is superior to others’.

Struan Robertson (pronounced, STREW-in, not Strew-ANNE; it’s not an iamb) an exceptionally gifted student, planning to pursue a career in dentistry, takes a summer job working as an assistant to a fading playwright who has recently suffered a stroke. The playwright, Phillip Prys, is surrounded by a largely dysfunctional grouping of family and friends. His ex-wife (and mother of his two children) is a former actress, now losing money flipping houses (as we would put it today) in London’s falling real estate market. His current wife, a formerly wealthy refugee from Iran, paints post-modern Persian miniatures. His son is a self-absorbed want-to-be playwright who’s just been rusticated (in other words, kicked out for a year) from Oxford. His daughter is angry and lonely, sure she’ll never find love or happiness. His daughter’s best friend is a recovering anorexic. His agent is a semi-closeted gay man who finds Phillip demanding more and more time, while bringing in less and less revenue.

Hilarity (mostly) ensues. Some find love; some get their comeuppence; all are changed.

This is a great book to pick up when you want to laugh (not too unkindly) at others’ foibles. The style is breezy. The plot holds some surprises. If you’re starting to dream of vacation reading as you wait for winter to end, this book would be a fun title to put on your list. ( )
  Sarah-Hope | Mar 4, 2015 |
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It's the long hot summer of 1989 and revolution is in the air...The 'English' of this novel are a particular kind of family. Their ailing patriarch is Phillip Prys, the once-famous writer unexpectedly eclipsed first by voguish Salman Rushdie, and second by a massive stroke. His third wife, Shirin, pads through their house in Hampstead, resolute in the face of Myfanwy, first spouse, who returns with all the subtlety of a stormy weather front to manage Phillip's care. Their children, Jake and Celia, have each retreated towards drugs and food, their already strained relationship with their father unable to bear this latest rupture. And to cap it all, it's the hottest summer anyone can remember. Enter Struan. Built like a heron, fresh from Scotland, he is thrust - quite literally - into the bosom of the family as Phillip's 17-year-old nurse. He's had experience of death, but not of London. It's a foreign country, with foreign food and foreign customs. But it also has a kind of magic. As he comes under the influence of each Prys, his life begins to change in ways he could never have imagined. And so, in the meantime, do theirs...… (more)

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