LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Anna knocked on Mattie’s door.Within seconds there was Mattie, in a peach kimono.
‘Anna!’ she gasped, in overblown, delighted surprise.
Twinkling at her, Mattie leaned against the door frame, clutching its edge with one green-nailed hand. Her black sheet of hair hung to her waist, and the neckline of her kimono dropped almost as far; it was the kind of thing Anna had only seen before in 1940s films, or East London burlesque nights.
‘What are you doing here?’ asked Mattie.
It was a good question, and Anna hadn’t prepared a reasonable excuse.
commentary: Lottie Moggach’s Kiss Me First, published 2013, was one of my favourite books of 2015, the year I read it: it was chilling, memorable, assured, and very very unusual. It looked at the world of online communication and social media in a way that I have still not seen matched: it was hilarious and clever and sad and good-hearted at the same time.
This is her second novel, and is also compelling and entertaining and convincing, but in a very different way. It tells the story of Anna – a Brit who moved to Spain with her boyfriend, full of hope and happiness. The first short section of the book is as horrible a picture of a disintegrating relationship as you could wish to read, because it isn’t violent or over-dramatic, it’s quite everyday. Anna, you can see, is over-impressed by her horrible boyfriend Michael, and he is not very nice to her, but no-one is quite meaning to be as cruel or as vile as the outcome suggests. Michael’s awful friends Farah and Kurt (they all went to Oxford together; Anna did not) have come to visit, and Anna is hating it.
Everything goes wrong in slight but realistic ways. There is a great clothes moment here:
Farah in her denim cut-offs and vest seemed vivid and definite. Anna was wearing an austere, shapeless, expensive cotton smock that, with her delicate pale limbs, was meant to lend her an appealing, wispy, babe-in-the-woods quality. Instead, next to the strong meat of Farah, Anna felt slight and anaemic; so understated she barely existed.
The next section of the book jumps to a year later: this is 2009, and Spain, like the rest of the world, is in the depths of a recession. Anna and all the other ex-patriates are sitting tight, stuck with unsaleable property and hoping things will improve and they can move on. They argue, sulk, socialize and watch each other.
Anna had always doubted Graeme’s claims to have been top rank CID – surely, even in Liverpool in the 80s, there were some standards – but now she could see him back in his heyday, the corrupt copper in a straining nylon shirt, ordering some casual violence with a lift of his chin.I think Moggach, as here, has a stunning ability to create characters in a few lines, often with a joke, and to make you completely see and understand them – and yet these are not stereotypes or clichés.
She rents out her empty house via a dubious businessman, and quickly sinks into a trough of wondering has she made a terrible terrible mistake, as all her fellow Brits believe. Are the people who cast doubt on her decisions being racist, or are her new tenants illegals causing trouble? The story is tense and sinister, and not everything is spelled out. It is clear that Anna is drinking far too much, and running out of money, and the reader is desperately concerned for her, and worried about what horrible crimes have happened, or will happen in the future…and how she is trapped: surely she can never get away. How Moggach resolves this is very clever, and kept me reading desperately.
I did very much like the book, and what I’m really hoping is that she will write more and even better books in the future. At one point here Anna goes online to find out about a woman called ‘Satine Simpson: cook, blogger, campaigner, overachiever.’ This character never makes a proper appearance, but the two page riffle through her online profile – tweets, posts, Instagrams –
She turned to Satine’s blog, Simply, Satine. That enraging comma!- is absolutely spot-on: funny satirical and wince-makingly recognizable.
Satine was wearing a fedora and denim dungarees, a slice of her pale bare torso on show.It’s not that important to the plot, but I had a rogue thought from Satan that I wished there was more, much more, of it, as there was in Kiss Me First.
But still absolutely definitely a recommended read, and I hope Moggach is going to do a lot more skewering of modern life in the future.