Two people try desperately to make a connection in this angry, sad story of damaged lives and the personal and national politics that abet the problems.
The idea of two characters conveyed with much interior monologue as they spend a day moving around a major city until they finally connect in the wee hours may sound familiar. But it's doubtful that Kennedy (All the Rage, 2014, etc.) meant more than a nod to Joyce's Ulysses. Jon is a civil servant of 59, divorced after his wife's blatant infidelity and soured on a London career tidying up politicians' messes. He is plagued by a superior named Harry "the poisoned" Chalice, an utterly odious man who speaks like a John le Carré caricature—and yet a slowly revealed subplot bears real George Smiley resonance. Jon seeks to allay loneliness by offering in an ad to write romantic letters to women in need of same. One client is Meg, a single, recovering alcoholic of 45 who drank away her career and now works part-time in a shelter for rescue animals as she faces the onset of menopause. Their thoughts and rants and pain are rendered constantly in italic passages, giving the novel, along with fine writing throughout, two strong voices that can also be overwrought in both senses—making TMI really OTT ("You have the Hindenburg burning inside you always"). By the day on which all the story's events occur, Jon and Meg have met and months have passed; now they are trying for what could be a crucial tryst, and hour by hour things get in the way, from the wittering Chalice to Jon's boyfriend-abused daughter.
With sometimes-battering extremes of emotion and pain that ranges from personal injury to corrosive political nastiness, Kennedy's urban odyssey offers an unusual and often powerful love story.