First novel by British journalist Joughin follows the slapdash adventures of a mid-20s single woman through an emotionally impoverished landscape of London artists and hangers-on.
The story centers on the life of Chrissie, a textile designer by day and waitress by night at the aptly named suburban club Au Temps Perdu, where she gathers with her ne’er-do-well friends, who drink until the wee hours and change partners as regularly as they change clothes. The chapters are titled after the places Chrissie roams, from Blythe Road, where she lives by herself after discovering that long-time boyfriend Nick has been messing around; to Lisbon, where she spends a disastrous weekend with old friend Geraldine, whose glamorous, kinky boyfriend, Danby, has tired of her and set off in search of his missing teenage daughter, Lily; to Moscow Road, near her own flat, where her sister, Isa, has moved and disclosed, stunningly, that she is pregnant and probably having an affair with Nick. This turn of events lends a welcome detachment to Chrissie’s observation of the odd hedonists who surround her, as she recognizes the futile desperation of her female friends, determined to love men who don’t love them, and the hollow promises of men like Nick, whom women adore and never attain. She forges a kind of filial friendship with Danby, and they travel together in search of his lost daughter. In Ireland, Chrissie miraculously runs into Isa, recuperating from an abortion and in real psychological trouble. Yet the sisters are estranged, murderously competitive and unable to get around the obstacle of Nick, until pregnancy again demands a decision—nothing else seems to alter the stasis of these characters. Wading through the circumstantial detail, readers will enjoy a few delightful moments (a Scottish mother has “Stonehenge hips”), but it’s a cheerless journey overall: smoking, drinking and mostly staying in one place.
Nonetheless, a sassy English writer to watch.