Cheet, by Anna Davis; Rescue Me, by Christopher Hart (review)


Cheet          Anna Davis          Sceptre           £10.99      312pp paperback         

Rescue Me  Christopher Hart  Faber & Faber    £9.99  232pp paperback


                   Sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. And sex.

                   When Kathryn Cheet (a desperate homonym) is driving her taxi round London in Anna Davis’s new novel, this is what consoles her.  However, there’s not much reason given why she should be addicted to the art of maintaining five relationships, other than the death of her mother. Cheet is nevertheless pretty good fun, provided you concentrate as hard as Kathryn has to, to keep her four straight and one gay mates from becoming confused with one another. As well as with the sixth liaison which kicks the novel off.

                   Kathryn (Kate, K, Kitty, Kath, Katerina....) has five mobile phones (blue, pink, yellow, green, red), but juggling them is a hard art, especially when there’s a cab to run. All is not, er, fare (the reviewer takes his revenge). She has an agony aunt, a single father, a seventeen-year-old trainee hairstylist, a burns-victim session guitarist, and a junior Arthur Daley to tick over - not to mention the prattish Twinkle, her latest recruit.

                   It becomes obvious during the first third of the novel that these six lines are going to have to get tangled. The terror of losing the plot might be said to be what keeps the reader and cabdriver on the road. It is also plainly what delights Davis, who only comes unstuck, it seems to me, with the guitarist, and with the necessity for her heroine (the narrator) to have a confidante - who is only really there to ensure that things go properly pear-shaped. Asking the reader to take a serious interest in the various cultural shenanigans which the plot picks up for the odd short rides - that is honestly too much to ask. The dialogue picks up wonderfully, after a slightly flat start.

                         Kathryn has a recurrent nightmare, which is about an unidentified colour. It is mean of me to mention it, but this took me back to Blyton’s The Mountain Of Adventure. Otherwise, this taxi-ride (a neat enough image) is entertaining, sparky, and nicely placed this side of the ridiculous. It may surprise readers of Davis’ more serious but equally well-written Melting - but that’s all to the good. Some novelists have a lot to learn. Davis, who runs a novel-writing MA on the side, has a lot to teach.

          Christopher Hart’s second novel Rescue Me is also an impressive change after his elegiac debut, The Harvest. If you believe the picture on the front, and indeed ad on the back, then this is about a young male “escort”. However, if you expect some interesting new positions about sex between older women and young men, and from the literary editor of The Erotic Review to boot, then you’ll be disappointed. This is a great smartarse novel, one of the best I’ve read in a while. Its narrator Daniel Swallow (the smartarse) drops cultural nuggets and flashes his vocabulary like an intellectual delinquent. Here he is “free to toot along on my a recording of Poulenc’s Sonata for Two Clarinets, with its deliciously melancholy middle section”, or calling his hand-jobs manstrupation, or quoting Ulysses, or explaining exactly who was liberated from the Bastille. I suspect it is Hart rather than Swallow who thinks 6X is brewed by Wadsworth’s rather than Wadworth’s, but that’s the only error in this quick-witted and enjoyably sentimental love-story.

          Because that’s what it really is. Daniel Swallow may have been dumped as a PR consultant because he has nearly wiped out three minor celebrities when a hot-air balloon stunt goes wrong, but what drives him on is a gooey desperation to be loved by his best friend’s girlfriend. The novel has great pace, great comic set-pieces, and several engagingly rich and vacuous characters. There is some agreeably gormless gender-war fencing between Daniel and his friends Kate and Jess; and the dialogue is full of really believable mannerism. As with Anna Davis’s novel, you would not read Jonathan Hart’s Rescue Me for any great satirical insights. Both of them are well-written and admirably brisk jeux d’esprit. Hart and Davis are quirky comic novelists, Hart a little flashier with the word-play, Davis rather demanding with structure, but both highly to be recommended.

From The Independent