Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy

meeting the englishIt’s 1989, and sweltering in London.  Phillip Prys, famed playwright, suffers a stroke and his disinterested family is clueless as to his upkeep, other than putting out an ad for a daytime caregiver.

Life for the Scottish teenager Struan Robertson just becomes stranger when he answers the ad and gets the job.  Struan, smart as a whip with a decidedly small-town mentality, has just finished school, is a veteran worker in nursing homes, and has cared for his recently deceased father, so he reckons that he can manage a stroke victim.  Now if he can only handle the rest of Phillip’s family and entourage.

There’s Phillip’s current wife Shirin, Iranian and artistic, whose main interests are gallery showings, not her incapacitated husband.  His children are pieces of work, to put it bluntly – Jake is good-looking and rather sorry, a college student stuck on himself.  Sixteen year old Juliet is a chunky little thing, insecure with herself and obsessed with her anorexic friend Celia.  Neither of them have had time for their father previously, nor he for them, which may explain a fair amount.  Their mother, Myfanwy, Phillip’s snoopy ex-wife, still wants to manage Phillip’s house and finances.  Actually she wants the house back.

It is into this hornet’s nest that Struan finds himself, and his quiet stoicism is a plus when dealing with, well, any of them.

Meeting the English is chock-full of Britishisms and is written in a very stream of consciousness and chatty manner.  As such, it’s occasionally confusing, but often humorous.  The narrative voice jumps – a lot – and taking this on can be an undertaking.  Still, there’s a certain sweetness behind all the dysfunction, and a surprise ending that I didn’t see coming.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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