I was delighted when I spotted Good Riddance in my Twitter timeline. I have such fond memories of reading Elinor Lipman’s novels. She writes the kind of sharply observed, absorbing and entertaining fiction that‘s just the ticket when you’re after an intelligent bit of escapism. With its story of a young woman, her widowed father and the high school yearbook left to her by her mother, Lipman’s new novel proved to be exactly that.
Daphne decides to declutter her tiny New York apartment, the only one she can afford after her less-than-one-year marriage turned out to be one of convenience for her philandering husband, enabling him to get his hands on his inheritance. After the shortest of dithers she dumps the heavily annotated yearbook dedicated to her mother by the class of ’68. Clearly their favourite teacher, her mother had attended every reunion dressed to the nines and kept a coded record of the changes she’d observed, not always complimentary. Off it goes to recycling where Geneva, a fellow tenant, picks it up and decides it’s the perfect subject for a documentary. Daphne’s second thoughts count for nothing with Geneva who insists that the two of them attend the next reunion together. Meanwhile, Daphne’s father has moved to New York a mere ten minutes away from his daughter who’s more than happy to have him there and she’s made the acquaintance of her across-the-corridor neighbour, Jeremy, an attractive bit player in a teenage soap opera. The final ingredient for an enjoyable caper is the bombshell dropped at the class reunion which turns Daphne’s world upside down.
Good Riddance is the literary equivalent of a smartly turned out rom-com, following a close-to-thirty woman, flailing around for something to do with her life after her unfortunate marriage, who has the carpet pulled out from under her feet a second time. Lipman narrates her story in Daphne’s sometimes waspish voice, serving it up lightly laced with a few farcical moments and a good deal of sly wit. It’s a pleasingly perceptive comedy of manners whose slightly old-fashioned style would suit Frasierfans well. Lightning Books are publishing a second Lipman novel – On Turpentine Lane – at the same time as Good Riddance. Another treat in store.
I rarely read dystopian fiction, mostly because the current state of the world feels grim enough to me, but Tünde Farrand’s Wolf Country comes from Eye Books, the same company who published the impressive An Isolated Incident, which persuaded me to give it a try. Set in 2050, Farrand’s novel explores a world gripped by rampant consumerism through the story of a woman desperate to save her husband from the fate that awaits all who can no longer pay their way.
Philip disappears on Boxing Day, the day the palatial new shopping centre he designed was to open in a televised ceremony. Instead, the complex goes up in smoke, the target of anti-capitalist activists. Alice and Philip are Mid Spenders earning their Right to Reside by meeting their monthly spending targets, often buying things they neither need nor want. Philip’s father is a dissident who lives in the Zone, a wild area outside the city where wolves are reputed to roam. The Zone is where the destitute are sent, those unable to earn their place in the Dignitoriums where the ‘non-profits’ are promised a year of bliss before they meet their painless end, or so Alice believes. At the top of this new world order are the unimaginably rich, one of whom Alice’s estranged sister Sofia has married, while at the bottom are the Low Earners who barely scrape by. As she sinks further into depression, Alice knows she’s heading for the bottom, or worse, and when it happens she decides to appeal to Sofia for help. Her path to her sister will open her eyes to the cruelty and deception of the system she had once thought benign.
Farrande unfolds her story from Alice’s perspective, weaving memories of her childhood and her life with Philip through her quest to find out what has happened to him and her decision to ask Sofia for help. Alice’s small epiphanies along the way effectively lay bare the truth behind the glossy facades of the Dignitoriums. There are uncomfortable resonances with our own times: the constant consumption of ephemeral stuff, institutionalised in the new world; slick marketing promising much but delivering little, or worse; the consequences of an ageing population and contempt for those who struggle to pay their way. It’s an all too plausible story, well told, but its ending let it down for me. Maybe our own contemporary troubles are making me cynical.