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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Nigel Williams

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To purchase Fortysomething

Title: Fortysomething
Author: Nigel Williams
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 403 pages
Availability: Fortysomething - UK

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Our Assessment:

B : entertaining, but overlong

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Evening Standard . 23/8/1999 William Leith
The Observer . 9/7/2000 Claudia Pugh-Thomas
The Spectator . 11/9/1999 Andrew Barrow
TLS B- 3/9/1999 Bryony Bowden

  From the Reviews:
  • "In a style pitched between ribaldry and edgy comic understatement, these 403 pages are a chronicle of Slippery's mid-life crisis (.....) As you read, you move through the book fast, racked by quick bursts of laughter. It's never depressing; the tone is so light you find yourself laughing at words like "embolism" and "murdered"." - William Leith, Evening Standard

  • "Paul is the perfect example of the middle-class, white, British, ordinary, suburban male, the butt of every perfectly-pitched joke, no hero, yet somehow remarkable, and likeable, for his resolute conventionality." - Claudia Pugh-Thomas, The Observer

  • "Some of the satire -- on the Royal Court's new black playwright, for instance -- has a harder edge; there are some fine observations on parenthood and, in particular, marriage; and the whole is orchestrated with considerable technical aplomb. But Williams's hectic persona is afflicted with a desperate energy that belies his years and may fatigue his readers." - Bryony Bowden, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Fortysomething is narrated by radio actor Paul Slippery. He is, in fact, barely still fortysomething at all: the book opens when he is half a year shy of his fiftieth birthday, and covers the sixth month until he reaches the half-century mark.
       Slippery is in the midst of quite the midlife crisis. The character he has played on the radio soap General Practice for over two decades, Dr Esmond Pennebaker, is due to be written off shortly. Domestically things aren't going much better: Slippery can't even remember the last time he had sex with his wife, Estelle -- which becomes an ongoing preoccupation and problem. And his sons are cause for some concern. There's Jacob, up at Oxford (occasionally), but more interested and involved in shady business deals. There's Edwin, still in his teens and meant to be studying for his GCSEs. And there is Ruairghy, now studying at the local University of South Wimbledon, but a hapless sort of fellow -- not helped at all by his name, which even his father can't get right and misspells continuously throughout the book.
       Estelle asserts some independence and spends most of her time at "Craftgirls", an all-women craft-making collective. The boys cling to home, with matters getting further complicated by their overlapping romances and jealousies.
       BBC politics and continuous restructuring help keep Slippery's work situation in a state of complete confusion -- but also offer hope that he can keep his character alive (in some form, at least). There is also bevy of employees considering sex-change operations: Slippery finds emasculation at every turn (and not just figuratively).
       Slippery tells his story in the form of a diary -- a form here hard to sustain at such length. He's always off somewhere scribbling, and often it gets in the way of the action. There's also a great deal of routine -- the boys always sleeping late, the bad meals Slippery cooks, Estelle eluding him, Slippery's experiments with love potions -- and though Williams offers many an amusing twist it can get to be a bit much.
       Still, there is a great deal of fun in Fortysomething too. Williams dry, absurdist humour, and poor Slippery's sad situation(s), make for many very funny scenes. The BBC, in particular, is amusingly skewered by knowing inside-man Williams, its employees subjected to considerable ridicule.
       Slippery's sex-woes are set in stark contrast to his sons' activities. His mis-perceptions, fumbling advances, and inability to remember when he last had sex are quite well done. Even recourse to videos turns out predictably unsuccessful (they aren't at all what he expected). He also tries a variety of love-potions -- not just for himself -- but this only makes for more confusion, the scene often like something out of A Midsummer Night's Dream (which is, in fact, rehearsed and performed by some of the characters). (Williams does take the love-potion bit a bit far -- it doesn't work completely successfully.)
       There are Mafiosi, a playwright imagined by Slippery who figures entirely too really, and diverse and sundry characters and acquaintances brought home by his sons. Home appliances appear in bulk on the front lawn, girls are proposed to and disposed of, sons (and his wife) disappear and reappear, and there is always the changing fate of his radio-character to worry about. Family (and professional) life is certainly rich, and yet Slippery all the while remains fairly calm if not entirely comfortable in the eye of a storm he can't fully comprehend.
       Fortysomething is entertaining, but not completely successful. Slippery is convincing -- his hapless tone, his accepting manner -- but there is an awful lot going on around him. Too much seems just out of reach (as, of course, it is for Slippery) and unfocussed, and there are simply too many small bits that don't quite fit neatly into the whole.
       A diverting light read, ideally presented for piecemeal consumption.

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Reviews: Other books by Nigel Williams under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Nigel Williams was born in 1948. He has written a number of novels and several plays.

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