Meeting the English - Book of the Month
by Kate Clanchy
Struan Robertson is an ingénu, seventeen years old and “six foot two in his nylon socks”. Struan lives in the small Scottish town of Cuik with his gran. Mum left a long time ago and dad died after an illness during which Struan was his carer. He works now in a care home for the elderly while doing his Highers. When Struan’s English teacher, Ron Fox, sees an ad in the paper: "Literary giant seeks young man to push bathchair. Own room in Hampstead, all found, exciting cultural milieu. Modest wage. Ideal 'gap year' opportunity." he urges Struan to apply, especially as Ron works out that the literary giant is none other than Phillip Prys, writer of the hugely famous play THE PIT AND ITS MEN – one of Struan’s set English texts!
Struan arrives in Hampstead in the middle of the sweltering summer of 1989 to care for stroke-afflicted Philip. But what shenanigans await him? Never has he met such people. There’s Shirin, Philip’s beautiful young Iranian (third) wife who paints miniatures in the bathroom (for the light); Myfanwy, Philip’s second wife who can’t seem to let go of the beautiful Hampstead home that she so tastefully bedecked in Laura Ashley and antiques from the Portobello Road; and then there’s handsome Jake (recently rusticated from Oxford) and Juliet (plump, confused, spoilt) - teenage brats who know nothing of the real world - the world that Struan Robertson has left behind.
As Struan acclimatises to the heat, a diet of Pot Noodles and the chaotic life in Hampstead, he tries to make sense of this dysfunctional, anarchic, highly privileged, family. Ultimately, it’s Struan’s presence that brings harmony to the discord – to quote the Prime Minster of the day!
This is a very funny but also very moving story, beautifully written and with great sympathy for all the characters, set in the hugely significant year of 1989 – the year of revolution and change – and for Struan Robertson life will never be the same again.
Read our interview with Kate Clanchy.
Published by Picador – 310pp.