Sunday, 9 July 2017

Dress Down Sunday: Under the Sun by Lottie Moggach


published 2017

LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES


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Anna knocked on Mattie’s door.Within seconds there was Mattie, in a peach kimono.

‘Anna!’ she gasped, in overblown, delighted surprise.

Twinkling at her, Mattie leaned against the door frame, clutching its edge with one green-nailed hand. Her black sheet of hair hung to her waist, and the neckline of her kimono dropped almost as far; it was the kind of thing Anna had only seen before in 1940s films, or East London burlesque nights.

‘What are you doing here?’ asked Mattie.

It was a good question, and Anna hadn’t prepared a reasonable excuse.

commentary: Lottie Moggach’s Kiss Me First, published 2013, was one of my favourite books of 2015, the year I read it: it was chilling, memorable, assured, and very very unusual. It looked at the world of online communication and social media in a way that I have still not seen matched: it was hilarious and clever and sad and good-hearted at the same time.

This is her second novel, and is also compelling and entertaining and convincing, but in a very different way. It tells the story of Anna – a Brit who moved to Spain with her boyfriend, full of hope and happiness. The first short section of the book is as horrible a picture of a disintegrating relationship as you could wish to read, because it isn’t violent or over-dramatic, it’s quite everyday. Anna, you can see, is over-impressed by her horrible boyfriend Michael, and he is not very nice to her, but no-one is quite meaning to be as cruel or as vile as the outcome suggests. Michael’s awful friends Farah and Kurt (they all went to Oxford together; Anna did not) have come to visit, and Anna is hating it. 

Everything goes wrong in slight but realistic ways. There is a great clothes moment here:
Farah in her denim cut-offs and vest seemed vivid and definite. Anna was wearing an austere, shapeless, expensive cotton smock that, with her delicate pale limbs, was meant to lend her an appealing, wispy, babe-in-the-woods quality. Instead, next to the strong meat of Farah, Anna felt slight and anaemic; so understated she barely existed.


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The next section of the book jumps to a year later: this is 2009, and Spain, like the rest of the world, is in the depths of a recession. Anna and all the other ex-patriates are sitting tight, stuck with unsaleable property and hoping things will improve and they can move on. They argue, sulk, socialize and watch each other.
Anna had always doubted Graeme’s claims to have been top rank CID – surely, even in Liverpool in the 80s, there were some standards – but now she could see him back in his heyday, the corrupt copper in a straining nylon shirt, ordering some casual violence with a lift of his chin.
I think Moggach, as here, has a stunning ability to create characters in a few lines, often with a joke, and to make you completely see and understand them – and yet these are not stereotypes or clichés.

She rents out her empty house via a dubious businessman, and quickly sinks into a trough of wondering has she made a terrible terrible mistake, as all her fellow Brits believe. Are the people who cast doubt on her decisions being racist, or are her new tenants illegals causing trouble? The story is tense and sinister, and not everything is spelled out. It is clear that Anna is drinking far too much, and running out of money, and the reader is desperately concerned for her, and worried about what horrible crimes have happened, or will happen in the future…and how she is trapped: surely she can never get away. How Moggach resolves this is very clever, and kept me reading desperately.

I did very much like the book, and what I’m really hoping is that she will write more and even better books in the future. At one point here Anna goes online to find out about a woman called ‘Satine Simpson: cook, blogger, campaigner, overachiever.’ This character never makes a proper appearance, but the two page riffle through her online profile – tweets, posts, Instagrams –
She turned to Satine’s blog, Simply, Satine. That enraging comma!
- is absolutely spot-on: funny satirical and wince-makingly recognizable.
Satine was wearing a fedora and denim dungarees, a slice of her pale bare torso on show.
It’s not that important to the plot, but I had a rogue thought from Satan that I wished there was more, much more, of it, as there was in Kiss Me First

But still absolutely definitely a recommended read, and I hope Moggach is going to do a lot more skewering of modern life in the future.


















24 comments:

  1. I know just what you mean, Moira, about being able to give the reader a lot of information about a character with just a few words. That's definitely an art form. And I like the premise of the story, too, and the growing sense of unease. That, too, is not easy to pull off.

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    1. I think she is a very clever writer, and with both of her books I have had no idea where she was going, how the story was going to pan out. Makes for great reading!

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  2. How suspenseful is it? As I've gotten older I've found I can't deal with a lot of unknown lurking danger. I've never been a check-the-end-of-the-book person (unlike my sister), but now if there's too much of it I do! Not so much in older books, but modern stories just raise all my angstiness.

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    1. Hmmm, good question. There is a growing feeling of dread, and I was really worried about the heroine, but it wasn't that you thought some horrible gruesome violence was going to happen to her, it was a different kind of jeopardy. I have read much worse in that respect...

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    2. Good! Because it does sound interesting. Seems like just the right amount of suspense, then. :-)

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    3. You know what, I think that is the right description. Good tension, and not a cop-out ending at all, but satisfying in its way.

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  3. I am with Paula, I don't do dread of future events very well. However, I don't think this is my kind of book anyway, so I will let you read it for me.

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    1. It was more a free-floating anxiety I think! Everything was quite murky. And you do have enough books to read already...

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  4. The section quoted almost sounds 1940s/50s, even with the jolt of the green nails and the words "1940s films" (but perhaps she was a theatre type) purely because of the surprisingly archaic and actually rather twee use of "twinkling" - something I've usually seen in an occasional Georgette Heyer or in references to the wee fey fays en frolique. Funny how certain words can so instantly bring on such associations/jolt you out of the moment....

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    1. Ha - so this makes me think that excerpts have their own pluses, that someone coming to it fresh, not having read the previous 100 pages, will have something new and interesting to offer. (It's a bit like school English tests, those 'comprehension' passages, did you have that...?)

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  5. Hmm.... I'd read it and probably enjoy it if I had time - but I don't

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    1. I'm glad you are resisting the temptation of getting more books!

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  6. Pretty kimono at the top.

    I agree about current books with women in peril, and they're written in the first person. I'm calling a halt to this type of reading, as I read several books like that last summer -- and got my fill.

    Some had twists at the end that made no sense. Or they weren't well-written or, frankly, a waste of my precious reading time.

    But one book, by Sarah Hilary, which was better-written than the others, was so brutal that I felt like I had to keep the lights on all the time, not take out the garbage and borrow the neighbor's dog. Not again.

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    1. I thought this one got the balance right, but the tipping point is different for all of us. I do agree with your complaint though - too much of it!
      I read one book by Sarah Hilary, and I thought it was very good, well-plotted, well-written, very clever - but I couldn't bear the violence, general unpleasantness, and jeopardy for women in it, so decided not to read any more.

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  7. I agree about Sarah Hilary. One book, her first, was well-written, substantive about the protagonist (not superficial), and interesting. It hit on the important issue of the results of domestic violence of all types on children who grow up to be adults. It's a serious issue.

    However, too brutal and violent, and I thought that was it for me of her books. Also, when I saw that the next book started off with children as victims, I said no to myself.
    Cannot go there. I'd never sleep.

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  8. I agree with both of you. There's a point beyond which it's simply unpleasant if not completely disgusting.

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  9. And gratuitous. Do we readers really need to know the details of each act of brutality? The sadism? The psychopathology? We need to know reasons or background but not the details.
    And not children. Also misogynistic brutality I can live without.

    How did we enjoy Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe and a lot more writers who didn't and don't engage in this type of writing, yet we enjoyed their stories.

    I'm so oversaturated with brutality I'm going to read non-mysteries for awhile.

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    1. I so agree with both of you, Kathy and Paula, and I don't know who it is who actually likes these books and these awful descriptions. As you say, Kathy, apparently it was easy in the old days to write crime books without upsetting your readers...

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  10. Except for Mickey Spillane. When I saw the paperback covers of women covered with blood, I avoided them.

    Other books seemed tame by comparison.

    Women are the prime buyers of fiction, including crime fiction. Do women readers want this? Among my women friends, one doesn't care if violence is in a book; the other is so used to it by now she shrugs if discussing it, but she did stop reading a Norwegian thriller writer who writes of much brutality towards women.

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    1. I wonder the same thing, Kathy, it mystifies me that many women are giving their money to authors who write that way about women and children and violence...

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  11. Some women friends just skip the brutal passages. I did that with Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy.

    And I just read "The Dry," by Jane Harper. Very well-written, good protagonist, interesting, great sense of place. But it made me tear up, not usual with a mystery.

    So now I'm switching to non-crime books for awhile, although I know I'll cave in and go back to crime.

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    1. I have heard about The Dry and keep wondering if I should read it. You would recommend?

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  12. I recommend The Dry. It has a good protagonist, Aaron Falk, who returns to the small southern town in Oz where he grew up. There is a current murder mystery and one that is 20 years old. It is written by a woman which I think matters in the feelings she evokes about both crimes.

    But the sense of place is well-written. A reader feels like she is in isolated farmland during a drought, with nothing growing and tired livestock and people. I teared up in a few places, not usual for mysteries.

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    1. OK, you've done a good job in selling this one! Off to look it up.

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