Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Overegging the pudding

Until recently, I’d only ever read two novels that were set in Watford – and I’d written one of them myself. (The other being Nick Corble’s excellent Golden Daze.) But I’ve just finished a third, and it’s a proper book by a well-known author: The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim by the ever-reliable Jonathan Coe.

Actually, only a small portion of the story actually takes place in Watford. But Max does live there, and this provides the excuse for a lengthy and excruciating monologue which is one of the highlights of the first chapter. (To find out exactly why it’s so excruciating, you’ll have to read the book: I don’t want to spoil the punchline.) A short extract will give you the flavour:

“… Caroline never really seemed to take to Watford, she never seemed entirely happy there, which I think is a shame, because, you know, there’s something good to be found everywhere, isn’t there?, which isn’t to say that, living in Watford, you wake up every morning and think to yourself, Well, life may be a bit shit, but look on the bright side, at least I’m in Watford, I mean it’s not as if Watford is the sort of place where the very fact that you’re living there gives you a reason to go on living, that would be overegging the pudding a bit, Watford just isn’t that sort of place, but it does have an excellent public library, for instance, and it does have The Harlequin, which is a big new shopping centre…”

And so on, for another page or so, with the name of the town cropping up remorselessly every couple of lines.

If I was the sort of person who got offended by such things, I might protest at the way Coe clearly suggests that his boring, bland and emotionally stunted protagonist has found a town that suits him perfectly. But really, what harm does it do? And at least he’s done his research, as another passage, where Max directs someone from Watford Fields to Watford Junction station, proves. I’ll even forgive him for calling it ‘Watford Field’. No one’s perfect.

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