Tuesday, March 5, 2013
'The Book of Dave is a conflation of two potentially discrete books. The first is an oddly realistic, if gleefully supercharged, account of the declining years of Dave Rudman, a North London cabbie trying vainly to prise his son from the grasp of an absconding wife while operating as a sort of cosmic symbol for cab-land culture. The second is a dystopian vision of our northern metropolis in the 2500s, in which the "Six Families" inhabit the deliquescing island of "Ham", while the outlines of "New London" lie downstream in the murk.
Uniting these two deeply uneasy worlds is the book of the title, the self-aggrandising monologue hidden by vengeful, put-upon Dave in a Hampstead garden centuries before. From this the Hamsters derive their behavioural tools and spiritual understanding, greeting each other with the salutation "Ware2, guv?", acknowledging their daily deliverance from harm with the formula "Thanks Dave, for picking us up". Ham's protocols, its vocabulary, its fourth dimension, are extremely funny: pre-maternal women are "opares"; the day divides into three "tariffs"; while, in recognition of Dave's domestic difficulties, fathers and mothers live in separate accommodation, transferring offspring at "Changeover".'
As to what The Book of Dave is "about", the satire of revealed religion promised by the blurb is the least of its attractions, being conducted with all the subtlety of a power-hose trained on concrete. Struggling to get out from beneath this conventional assault on that dim-witted part of the populace which has the effrontery to believe in God is a wide-ranging novel - microscopic and panoramic at the same time - of London life, harking back to Richard Jeffries' After London and ending in the same orbit as Patrick Hamilton's Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky.
MI5. When the professor dumps her – literally in a layby off the A45 – she is devastated. She starts working for MI5 anyway but is disappointed to find herself doing mere grunt work as junior assistant officer in a "grubby little office" in Curzon Street.
Continuing in her spare time to work her way through the cream of contemporary fiction (in paperback: she can't afford hardbacks) she's startled to find herself summoned upstairs to face a roomful of men: "'We understand… you're rather well up on modern writing – literature, novels, that sort of thing – bang up to date on, what's the word… contemporary literature... yes, awfully well read and quite in with the scene.'"
Happy to let them think she's "in with the scene", Serena accepts an exciting mission. She is to immerse herself in the work of a young novelist called TH Haley, then meet him and assess whether or not he should be offered the chance of a stipend – "enough to keep a chap from having to do a day job for a year or two, even three". A struggling novelist's dream, in other words.'