Thursday, July 28, 2016

'Moving' by Jenny Eclair

28 July 2016

We first saw the comedian Jenny Eclair at the South Holland Centre in Spalding about a year before she became the first female solo winner of the Edinburgh Fringe Perrier Comedy Award in 1995. We saw her stand-up show a few times over the next few years and have since enjoyed her appearances on radio and television but, until now, I hadn’t read any of her books. Her latest novel, ‘Moving’ (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Judith Boyd, Clare Willie and Andrew Wincott), is a surprisingly melancholy family tale in three parts. The first section of the book focuses on Edwina who is about to sell the house she has lived in for more than 50 years. As she shows the estate agent each room she is reminded of episodes from her family life, gradually building up a jigsaw-puzzle narrative of Edwina’s marriages and children. Moving from room to room with a series of flashback stories provides an intriguing structure but feels more like an extended Radio 4 Afternoon Play than a novel. The middle section of the book plunges the reader into the more straightforward story of a student at the Manchester Polytechnic School of Theatre in the early 1980s (clearly drawing on Jenny Eclair’s own experience). But the fact that the protagonist here is not one of Edwina’s children but someone more obliquely connected to her family makes the novel much more interesting as the reader tries to work out how the events and characters are going to connect. Some apparently far-fetched coincidences turn out to have more believable connections that were subtly planted in the early chapters. The final section of the novel shifts to another previously peripheral character’s perspective and brings the narrative back to the present day. Echoing the structure of the novel’s first section, photographs in an album prompt memories that fill in another angle to many of the events covered in the first two parts of the book. Jenny Eclair cleverly makes us care about a previously unsympathetic character by showing us the story through his eyes. ‘Moving’ is an impressive and intriguing novel – carefully plotted and a sadder, more serious story than I had expected.



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