Thursday, April 20, 2017

'South of the River' by Blake Morrison

20 April 2017

Blake Morrison is a poet who received great acclaim for his candid and moving memoirs of his parents – ‘And When Did You Last See Your Father?’ (1993) and ‘Things My Mother Never Told Me’ (2002) – both of which I read and enjoyed some years ago. In 2007 he published his second novel, ‘South of the River’ which I have just finished reading. Reviews praised this as a state-of-the-nation novel – a British Jonathan Franzen or Philip Roth – but it felt to me much more like a David Lodge novel, with the same deceptively accessible prose disguising an incredibly clever structure and serious themes. ‘South of the River’ follows five interlinked individuals through the years immediately following the 1997 general election with each chapter written from the point of view of one of these five main characters. Although it doesn’t have the set-piece comic scenes of a David Lodge book, Blake Morrison demonstrates a similar lightness of touch and subtle planting of plot points that return later in the story. It’s a compelling set of stories that resists the temptation to neatly tie up all its loose ends. Unsurprisingly Blake Morrison shows a poet’s attention for words and word-play but what most impressed me was his ability to make us sympathise with each of the five main characters, even when their views were in opposition with each other. In this respect ‘South of the River’ did remind me of Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections’ but also of ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy. ‘South of the River’ is a really enjoyable novel covering an interesting period of our recent history through a series of connected personal stories. By the end I had become attached to these characters and really wanted to know what happened to them next.



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