A few months ago I was listening to Graham Norton’s Saturday morning radio show and his guest was Jenny Eclair who was talking about her new novel: Moving.
The interview was a bit of hard work for a casual listener doing his housework as Jenny didn’t let her natural, bubbly personality be restrained by the medium of radio. She was loud, quick, jumping from topic to topic – and generally very funny.
When talking about the book – about an older woman going from room to room in her house as she prepares to sell it, and reminiscing about the history of each room – she talked about how she had become fascinated by buildings and the history they contained.
The novel, if I’m honest, sounded to me like there wouldn’t be much plot, and I assumed that it would be more of a series of comedic essays and tales, anecdotes and stories weaved into one through the shared history of one house. So I didn’t rush out to get a copy.
When one passed by my desk, however, my curiosity was piqued enough to slip it in my bag and take it home for a read.
Celebrity novelists as far as I’m concerned face one danger when writing their books. Namely placing themselves as the main character in their story, or by writing in the stand-up voice which is the reason I struggled with Dawn French’s books. It’s difficult to engage with a fictional character that is obviously based on a real person.
The only way it would be possible is if it’s so true to life you could believe that the events being described had actually happened to that person. So, when Dawn French’s voice came out of a sixteen year old girl on page one of her novel, I couldn’t invest in what was happening and I soon gave up.
Eclair deftly manages to avoid this trap, by simply writing about a character that is so obviously not based on herself. Of course, when Edwina pulls herself out of the bath on page one and looks at the tiny silver-haired woman in the mirror, the reader is thinking of Jenny Eclair, the name they’ve just seen displayed larger than the title on the front cover.
But the writing is of such a quality and the characterisation is so spot on that the fact that Jenny Eclair wrote this book is quickly forgotten.
Thoughts instead, turn to how long the premise can last. Edwina, despite her advancing age, rattles through the rooms of the relatively large house, that the reader is left wondering just how many rooms there will turn out to be – or indeed if the slightly senile Edwina will simply just do two or three tours of the building.
The book, though, is actually split into three sections, Edwina’s forgetful meandering, Fern’s 1980’s education and Lucas’ present day return to the city, Moving is in itself is like construction of a house.
Edwina’s tour of her crumbling town house is simply the foundation for the bricks and mortar of Fern’s experiences in Manchester and Lucas’s tales of the past are simply the furnishings of the house that is Charlie.
Charlie is the character around whom the story revolves, despite the fact that he is absent for much of it. Our three main characters define him with their tales of his life.
It is only through all of them that we get a complete understanding of who Charlie was, what his story was.
The end of the book returns to Edwina to provide a coda to the story, to put a lock on the front door and leave Charlie’s story told, and then in the final few pages we learn that while it may seem over, it was simply the foundation for another story.
I enjoyed Moving much more than I thought I would, because it was well written, revealed enough to keep you satisfied, but not too much that you didn’t keep going and it made me think.
In short, Moving was moving.
(Oh, come on, you didn’t think I could resist that, did you?)