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Novel set in South London “… a chilling insight into the lives of others”

16th June 2016

Blackheath by Adam Baron, novel set in South London.

Amelia Leigh has it all: she lives in a huge house in affluent Blackheath, an exciting career in casting, a successful husband who adores her, and two perfect children. But one day she wakes up to the discovery that she positively dislikes her daughter and has an unexplained attraction to James, a dad she has only seen at the school gates. This attraction gradually takes on the characteristics of a full-blown obsession as Amelia schemes and lies her way into James’ life. His life, too, until Amelia’s intervention seems pretty good: he’s happily married to Alice, a poet and academic, has a successful academic career of his own and two young children he adores. As the two couples’ lives become ever more entwined the disastrous outcome looks likely to wreck both families.

novel set in south london

The cover blurb describes this book as comic and so it is but it’s the kind of comedy that makes you cringe – rather like James’ own stand-up routine in which he reveals the intimate details of Alice’s sexual preferences. Stylistically it’s not an easy read either – there are too many consecutive truncated sentences. Probably a very accurate portrayal of real life communication but without the non-verbal clues of real life it makes comprehension difficult so the reader has to back track quite a lot.

The blurb also quotes Fay Weldon saying that “this is a book by a man who understands women better than they understand themselves”. Well, no. Not any women I’ve met. Thankfully. Baron is giving the reader a detailed insight into what life is like for the middle class Londoner today but sometimes it feels as though he gives us too much detail. Nothing is left unexposed – from the sordid details of their sex lives to the even more sordid details of their values. For these characters are eminently unpleasant, every one of them. Smug, self-indulgent and selfish, they scrabble and claw their way into the good schools, up the housing ladder and in and out of each other’s beds. James studies the mothers at the toddler group and describes them as “bovine”, “living Henry Moores” with “insides as pappy as their poorly contained exteriors”. Amelia narrowly observes her competition, Alice, and is horrified to see that she is sporting a classic, expensive Jaeger mac until she thinks “ting: charity shop”. Everyone manipulates and exploits everyone else. This is a very bleak view of the middle classes. Baron is undoubtedly more familiar with life in London than those of us living up north, but surely, even in London, people are better than this. The picture he paints of Blackheath and Greenwich emphasises the north/south divide very clearly and makes me, for one, very glad that I’m not there.

All in all, this novel offers a chilling insight into the lives of others. It’s skilfully crafted and I’m glad I persevered through it, but I’m not sorry to leave its characters and world behind and I won’t be visiting Blackheath any time soon.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

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