Penelope Lively

Bookends: Deftly orchestrated chaos

Bookends: Deftly orchestrated chaos
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The headings set the scene: ‘Last Tango in Balham, in which I meet Marlon Brando on the dance floor of Surbiton Assembly Rooms but thankfully do not have to do anything with packet of country life.’

The essential premise in Melissa Kite’s breezy new collection Real Life: One Woman’s Guide to Love, Men and Other Disasters (Constable, £7.99) is: single girl (of advancing years) desperately seeks man and invariably ends up with the wrong one. Plus a great deal more of mundane affronts to do with TV remote controls that won’t work, Lambeth Council’s wheelie- bin regulations, and the challenge of filling in a passport application form. Real life. Possibly.

The fun lies in the enjoyable unreality, the deftly orchestrated scenarios of chaos. The holiday (with the wrong man, of course) that becomes so unbearable that expensive escape is the only option, the escalating plumbing emergency, the riding holiday with girlfriends, ‘as daft as brushes and ditsy and flaky and useless’.

The narrator lives in a two bedroom flat in Balham (keeping a horse at country livery — unusual among Balham residents, I imagine), has an intermittent relationship with a married man but adores gay Simon (‘I’m made for gay men’), considers adopting a child but is turned down by Lambeth Council (they may have a point).

She is addicted to crisis and disaster, with an inability to see either coming, and a talent for a nice turn of phrase that can make a good story out of tangoing in Balham or cancelling her own wedding.

— Penelope Lively