Tales of Improper Behavior
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Londoners get down and dirty in a debut collection of interlinked stories where everybody is either having an affair or just behaving badly.

Newcomer Liddle, formerly a Guardian columnist, now an editor at The Spectator, offers something that more authors in these busy, busily plotted times should think of including: a chart mapping out all his major (and minor) characters and their relationships to one another (solid line means they had sex, dotted means they’re just acquaintances). The problem is, though, that this sharp but underwhelming volume of short pieces doesn’t come close to meriting such a tool, which comes off as just a touch pretentious for a book that’s essentially a series of black comic vignettes about screwing around and screwing up. These are good stories in general, most of them definitely able to stand on their own. Liddle knows quite well the spoiled, bored young things who populate his pages. In “Thirty Seconds with Sophie,” he presents a complete portrait of a certain kind of self-consciously slumming rich kid blindly sampling every drug put before him and sleeping with anyone and everyone, all as a sort of constant one-person performance piece of self-obsession. Some later tales verge into a darker fantasy realm. A woman starts growing a foul covering on her skin after using a hair depilatory; not as well thought-out as it could have been, the tale ends up as a ridiculous escapade involving more hilariously disaffected Londoners and a secret US military research facility. “What the Thunder Said” is a malicious piece of clockwork nastiness in which Christian, a serial philanderer who almost enjoys the elaborate deceits around his liaisons as much (or more than) the sex itself, is coming home from an assignation when a horrific train crash leaves him with something quite impossible to just explain away. But, by the end, this is all much the same sort of thing, cycling through repetitive similar themes, not worth more than a brief glance.

Well-observed, sometimes funny, if seemingly pointless.

Pub Date: Dec. 28th, 2004
ISBN: 0-385-51308-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2004