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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Somewhere Between Elegiac And Drily Amusing

Twenty One Locks - Laura Barton

Laura Barton's beautifully observed debut novel is the story of Jeannie, a young woman who works behind the perfume counter of a department store in a small town in the North of England, and is soon to be married to Jimmy, an inarticulate mechanic. Jeannie's dilemma is that as the juggernaut of wedding preparations rolls relentlessly towards her, she cannot escape an awareness that she is already sick to death of Jimmy. Everything about him irritates her, particularly his eating habits:

'She watches him, knife and fork held in determined fists, shoulders rounded and head bowed, his body bending in close to the plate. She watches the dart of fork to mouth, the clamp of teeth against cutlery, the lick of the knife, the frantic chewing, jaw clicking, mashed potato slopping to and fro, lips making a light "puh-puh-puh" as if smoking a pipe. She watches as he takes a slice of bread and mops his plate. She watches him lick his gravied fingers, push his plate away and belch.'

Lisa Barton delights in the ordinary, the inconsequential, the kind of detail that you are so accustomed to negotiating, you don't even notice it any more. Here she is describing Jeannie's mother.

'Jeannie's mother is a solid woman, sturdier than her daughter, her body has been broadened by childbirth and biscuits, and she wields a somewhat practical demeanour; she wears her hair short for the sake of convenience and long ago succumbed to the charms of elasticated waistbands.'

The plot is simple. Jeanie meets someone else and so does Jimmy. The question is, will one of them pull the plug or will they both carry on regardless. Barton keeps you guessing until the very end. But it's the tone of the novel that I found most appealing. Somewhere between elegiac and drily amusing, it lingers long after you have finished the final page.