Paul Slippery is 49 years and 5 months old, and lives with his long-suffering wife in Wimbledon, together with their three children. As well as the impending birthday, Paul hears that the character he has played for 20 years in a radio soap is being killed off.
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A long-running soap opera star is about to be axed. And there ends the similarity with The Killing of Sister George. Nigel Williams' latest novel is set firmly in family land, where Paul Slippery, the forty-nine-and-a-half-year-old radio voice of Dr Esmond Pennebaker, has a working wife, Estelle, and three GCSE to degree level sons, named Ruarighy, Jakob and Edwin. Paul is undergoing some mid-life crisis, doesn't understand his wife's newfound independence, doesn't understand the shenanigans going on at the BBC, doesn't understand the intricate goings-on of his teenage sons, representatives of another species, and can't seem to remember when he last had sex. Although Williams throws in a lot more sex, and an Asian woman, much of Fortysomething belongs to a dated white middle-class sitcom world invented by Carla Lane, where the sexes and the generations are divided by mutual ignorance and incomprehension, and brought together only by a shared dependence on Waitrose food. Williams piles on plot after plot, and there's a good deal of comic misunderstanding, but the novel's humour derives mainly from its journal form, with Slippery seizing every available (and unavailable) moment to scribble his diary like some latterday Samuel Richardson heroine. Fast, furious, and even funny--for fortysomethings.-- Alan StewartExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Dinner with all the family. This is unusual these days. Estelle made lasagne. She did not, as she once would have done, make the pasta herself. In fact she has shown a worrying lack of interest, recently, in things like hand-crafted tagliatelle. Once, she scoured the shops of south London in search of tamarind and even attempted to smoke her own fish in the garden shed - very nearly asphyxiating herself in the process. But now . . .
When I chewed her dish in a manner I thought just this side of ostentatious and said, two or three times, 'Mmm! Delicious!' she did not react. So I said 'My, this is tasty!' In case she had not heard I said it again - this time in a foreign accent. She glowered at me from under her fringe and said, 'It's simple anyway.' What does this mean?
Jakob, my middle child, has taken to reading the Financial Times during the evening meal. I do not approve of this. When I asked him, point-blank, tonight, whether he would consider devoting more attention to the hors-d'oeuvres, he said, 'I am going back to Oxford tomorrow. And I need to se how Praskein are doing!' When I asked, with just a touch of edge, whether this was the name of a Russian football team, Jakob concealed his face once more behind the paper. At one point he made movements that suggested he might be picking his nose. I suspect the boys may be in some kind of conspiracy to annoy me. When I asked his younger brother Edwin to pass the Waitrose Mixed Herb Leaves, he said, 'No FT! No comment!' During most of the meal Ruaierhgry, their elder brother, had positioned his face, horizontally, above his plate, like a flying saucer about to land. He only raised his features to fork in more supplies. I suspect him of orchestrating this attack.
Jakob back to Oxford! On his own! (Always a secretive child, he has not yet told us how he intends to get there). It seems only yesterday, although in fact it was last year, that we were running both Jakob and Ruairghy up to my old university in my elderly Volvo. Two sons at Oxford! A fact for which I had to apologize to other competitive parents in the Wimbledon area. Estelle took to saying that they were 'somewhere in the Midlands', which I thought made it sound as if they were in prison. And tomorrow he will leave Ruairghry behind, here with us.
I love my eldest son dearly, but I still think we should have given him a name we both could spell.
Estelle offered to run Jakob up tomorrow, but he was most insistent about going on his own. (Why?) It will be strange not to be staggering up the stairs of his college carrying the portable television, the combined CD cassette player and radio, the Compaq Deskpro computer, the Hewlett Packard Laserjet 4 Printer, the portable answering machine, the three electric guitars, the complete works of John Maynard Keynes and the truly staggering number of Megadeth CDs. I had not even heard of them before 1994, let alone been aware that they had a back catalogue about as extensive as Wagner's.
I asked Ruairghy, at dinner tonight, whether he was looking forward to doing some real teaching. He is doing a Diploma in Education at the University of South Wimbledon. His answer surprised me. He said, 'I am not going to be a teacher!' I raised my eyebrows slightly, but did not ask why, in that case, he was spending nine months boning up on the theory and practice of education.
My God, it's not long since the first time I left Ruiarhgy at Oxford! After dumping him in his room with his two mobile phones (in case he lost one, which he did in the first week), his eight T-shirts, two anoraks and three pairs of trainers, I walked back across the quadrangle and sobbed helplessly at the thought that now, at last, 'our boy' was standing on his own two feet.
'Standing on his own-two-feet' is perhaps, even now, not fully accurate. He asked me the other day where Leeds was. It is possible that we have protected him too much.
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Book Description 2000-07-06., 2000. Book Condition: New. Penguin. New edition. Paperback. Book: GOOD. 416pp. . Bookseller Inventory # NF-1754135