Moving by Jenny Eclair
Moving is Jenny Eclair’s fourth novel and is her most accomplished yet, seeing her move from the bittersweet comedy of her brilliant debut, Camberwell Beauty (which I read pre-blog), to a touching drama. Ever the comedian, Moving is still full of wit, but it is definitely not a comedy.
Moving is told in three main parts, each narrated by a different voice, which puts a different – and gradually revealing – perspective on the life of the central family.
We begin with Edwina, who is now getting elderly. She owns her Georgian house, in which she lives on her own.
More and more of the house is unused; it has been months since she ventured into some of the rooms. Maybe she should take herself on a guided tour, see her home as others would see it, or maybe the time has come to sell the thing. (p5)
How strange that she should be the last to go, and for a split-second she can hear them, running up and down the stairs, the tumble and laughter, followed by this silence.
Don’t cry, she reminds herself. (p6)
Having made the decision to sell the house, we go on a tour of it with Edwina as she shows the young estate agent around. We explore from room to room, including Edwina’s now unused studio – she was a successful illustrator. Each room evokes memories in Edwina – of her first husband Ollie, father of her twins Rowena and Charlie. Ollie died, and Edwina remarried. Dickie is the exact opposite of Ollie, but is no less devoted to Edwina. The only fly in the ointment is Lucas, Dickie’s son, who lives with his first wife, Barbara. Edwina finds it incredibly difficult to be a stepmother to Lucas on his visits; Lucas being conditioned by Barbara not to bond with her.
It’s 1980. The twins are grown up and are at university – where Charlie embarks on a life of excess in Manchester. The story is taken up by his girlfriend Fern, a nice, slightly uptight home-counties girl, is studying acting. She’s all but engaged to James, who is in training to be an army officer. However meeting Charlie in her neighbour Rob’s’flat sets her heart racing and despite being advised, ‘Whatever you do, don’t sleep with him.’ She can’t resist, despite Charlie sort of living with a feisty Spanish girl, they fall for each other. Of course, life with Charlie the hedonist is not going to be easy and their relationship will be off as much as it is on.
Lucas takes over the story, and the differences between the twins’ lives and his become clearer with every page. However, he narrates with hindsight – from 2015, when he has returned to London to his beloved mother who is dying. Lucas has been living in North Carolina:
Lucas has always viewed the American version of himself as a sort of cardboard cut-out, a cartoon character over whom he has never really had any control Consequently, he has ended up unhappily married to a pneumatic, badly dyed blonde with rock-hard breasts.
The story really begins to turn full circle, and all the family secrets and lies will be resolved one way or another ending back with Edwina in a coda. Having got to know Edwina in the first third of the novel, it is a shock to have a different narrator in the following sections – but this only takes a few pages for us to get used to Fern and Lucas, especially once we link Fern with the errant Charlie.
Most of the characters in this novel, perhaps with the exception of Alicia, Edwina’s cleaner-turned companion, are unlikeable and unreliable at times – but not all of the time; we empathize, sympathize, and laugh with them too. They are so normal, in a posh middle class way, all observed with Eclair’s razor-wit and eloquent prose, which makes for a gripping read.I wish all family dramas were as good as Eclair’s. Highly recommended. (9/10)
Source: Own copy
Jenny Eclair, Moving (Sphere, 2015) paperback, 400 pages.