Author: Amanda Craig, 1996.
Genre: Comedy-Drama. Social Satire.
Other Details: Hardback. 367 pages.
"If you want to say someone is a snobbish, humourless poof you should write that their book is "civilised, dry and graceful". Anything that is "lyrical" is rubbish, "off-beat" is unreadable and "original" means that the author is practically certifiable." - Veteran book reviewer, Ivo Sponge, to protégée, Mary Quinn - A Vicious Circle.
I decided to read this novel after seeing on Amanda Craig's website that her splendid Hearts and Minds was something of a sequel to this earlier work. Again there is an ensemble cast living in modern day London whose lives interweave with one another. The title reflects the way in which their fortunes rise and fall based on the moral choices they make.
Mary Quinn is a young Irish woman working as a waitress at London's Slouch Club, a favourite haunt for journalists. For a number of years she's been supporting boyfriend Mark Crawley, a freelance journalist. In the opening chapter another journalist, Ivo Sponge, arranges a confrontation between Mary and Mark in which Mark is forced to reveal that he is having an affair with Amelia, the rich, spoilt daughter of newspaper magnate Max de Monde. Also in the mix is Adam, Mary's gay best friend who is an aspiring novelist; Tom Viner, a junior doctor struggling to cope within the NHS; and Grace, a single mother living in a council high rise.
This was truly a comedy/drama with sections that were very witty and urbane and other sections that made fairly uncomfortable reading. It was written before the advent of 'Cool Britannia' yet the reflections on the effects of the recession and the decline of the NHS certainly still rings true. She also has lots of interesting things to say about journalism, writing and the incestuous world of professional book reviewing.
The novel itself was the subject of some controversy when Craig's ex-boyfriend decided that he was the inspiration for the book's villain and threatened litigation. This caused her publishers to cancel the novel's publication. Craig then submitted the manuscript to a libel lawyer who suggested a few changes. So the novel opens with a disclaimer stating that she made some "changes to several of the book's characters to dispel any question of there being similarities in this novel to living persons or real events". All the publicity meant that other publishers were keen to buy it and so she was paid twice for the same novel.
Amanda Craig is a great admirer of Charles Dickens in his role of social commenter and satirist and has sought to emulate him in capturing the richness and diversity of modern day London and its inhabitants. I certainly feel that she succeeds in this ambition creating though-provoking serious satires.