Sutcliffe (Are You Experienced?, 1999) follows a clutch of six Londoners through a hilariously geometric proliferation of sexual couplings.
Perennial student grad student Guy and television “development researcher” Lisa, who dreams of a new series on celebrity bathrooms, have been together for so long that their friends think of them as married. They’re not, but they’re pillars of social conservatism compared to Guy’s friends: Graham, the actor whose latest girlfriend got him to carry a pager so that she could ditch him over it, and Helen, the charity worker who “seemed to know what she wanted—misery—and to live a focused and separate life pursuing it.” Add Lisa’s sad-sack officemate Josh and her old friend Keri, the unconquerable beauty who seems willing to sleep with anyone as long as there are no strings attached, into the mix, and you’ve got all the makings of an update of La Ronde. Things start off decorously enough in a straight-from-sitcom mode, with free agents pairing off in amusingly ill-advised couples, but they don’t heat up till Guy decides to give a party celebrating his fifth year of non-marriage to Lisa, with the entertainingly predictable result of making all six principals available for bedtime duty. Within the airless social biosphere his six subjects (and evidently precious few others) call home, Sutcliffe is so skillful at dissecting the deliciously brutal misunderstandings and cross-purposes of the resulting couples that it’s something of a miracle to watch this comedy of exhaustion—only one possible heterosexual pairing is left unexplored—devolve from licentious snogging and shagging into a chasteningly, if unconvincingly, successful search for true love.
One of the few books of which it can confidently be predicted: If your favorite characters haven’t had it on yet, just wait a bit.