I have enjoyed many of Alan Warner’s previous novels, so it gives me no pleasure to report that his new book is so monumentally tedious that when two accountants turn up halfway through you think: great! Things might finally be getting interesting.
Kitchenly 434, set in Thatcherite Britain, is narrated by Crofton Clark, an aging hippy who lives at Kitchenly Mill Race, a Tudorbethan pile belonging to the mainly absentee rock star Marko Morell. Crofton loves both Marko and the house with an obsessiveness signalled by his frequent mentions of the fact. ‘I’m your, eh, caretaker,’ he reminds the owner. ‘I’m the retainer. I’m a faithful retainer of this house that I love.’
Marko rose to fame on the first wave of the English rock’n’roll revolution, during which he unleashed ‘a mighty noise of consequence and of economic empowerment’. Now he lives a life so detached from the real world that when he runs out of milk he flees to Barbados rather than go to the corner shop to buy some.
There are some very strange moments in this novel: a six-page disquisition on where to hang a washing line, and 12 pages on the procedure of drawing the house’s curtains (my heart sank when, 70 pages after reading this, I encountered the sentence: ‘Once again it was that time: to commence the drawing of the curtains throughout Kitchenly Mill Race’). It’s a book stuffed with untelling detail: ‘The pump did good work, but it needed frequent maintenance to stop it running rough’; and ‘half the house had been done in modern 13-amp rectangular peg BS1363 plugs and the rest in pre-war round peg’.