LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
To avoid going straight back to the office she walked through the now-thinning drizzle to Oxford Street to buy a new bra… The assistant in the fitting room was short and sturdy with a faint moustache. She was a crusader, this woman, a bra missionary stranded in a country of heathens who failed to understand the importance of that vital female undergarment. ‘Eighty per cent,’ she said, ‘eighty per cent of women in the UK are wearing the wrong-size bra.’ She lectured Alice on drooping and sagging. She extolled the virtues of a good sports bra and demonstrated the foolishness of thin straps (‘no support here or here’). Finally, rounding on her sternly, she grabbed the fastening of the cream bra Alice had been trying and pulled the material sharply on to the tightest setting. ‘It’s not about comfort!’ the moustached woman barked. ‘At your age, things drop, they go!’
observations: Just who are these young (or old) women are who don’t know the importance of wearing a well-fitting bra? – it’s hard to remain unaware of the drip of information coming through on this topic.
There seems to be no particular reason for this scene, but it is far from being the strangest scene in a strange book. Alice has just been sick on air during a live radio interview, and is shortly to lose her job. She has been living in central London in a young and trendy manner, and now moves back to her parents’ house (they are away) in suburbia, and sinks into a very empty way of life. She is joined by a convincingly annoying teenage cousin from the USA, and eventually a dog.
I never quite ran out of patience with the book, although it meanders along in a not very directed way, and some of the scenes seemed very unlikely. But there were some great lines:
Just because you comment on a problem doesn’t mean you’re not a part of it.Talking about a close friend, and contemplating whether they could ever have a romance, Alice has a great metaphor:
She’d already walked all over the island and climbed up to the highest point and seen the sandy beach and the palm trees that grew along the shore in a green fringe. It was utterly familiar; as impossible to claim as to renounce.(The dog is called Selkirk – the original of the Robinson Crusoe character, I wondered if this was relevant, in the light of this.)
There is some contrast being drawn between her superior friends at work, and the schoolmates who didn’t leave the area, (there’s a very cartoon-ish married-friend-with-baby) but just when it’s getting too heavy-handed, Gordon has this line:
Over time you began to suspect that life was not, in fact, a college course designed to foster personal growth. You began to wonder whether those serial daters had understood something you had failed to see.Every time the story got too ridiculous Gordon would redeem it for me. There isn’t much plot, but then it is wholly believable that Alice would sink into her accidie, and become rather helpless. As the annoying teenager says:
‘So don’t take this the wrong way, but when you went out earlier? You didn’t look like this? I mean you’d gotten dressed, right?’
The writing is so good that you can almost forgive the ending, which – a warning - is terrible, ridiculous, throw-across-the-room annoying.
‘I am dressed.’ Alice looked down at herself. It was true that she was wearing a pair of pyjama bottoms, but they were thick, towelling ones. Sweatpants almost. She also had on a large V-necked cable-knit cardigan covered in dog hairs with a hole in one elbow, and, yes, now she looked at it, there was some sort of food that had trickled down the front and congealed.
The picture shows advice from Debenhams, who have a large store on Oxford St.