Mike Cormack

Ray of light

In Joe Dunthorpe’s witty novel, a series of calamities descends on the hero, losing him his livelihood — and worse

Often a blurb exaggerates, but rarely does it fundamentally misrepresent (unless it contains the words ‘In the tradition of…’). The Adulterants, however, talks of ‘the modern everyman… stubbornly ensconced in an adolescence that has extended well beyond his biological prime’. We thus expect a man-child, resiling from responsibility and dependent on internet porn and gaming — basically the Simon Pegg character in Shaun of the Dead.

But the protagonist, Ray, is really ‘mostly’ a good guy: he mostly loves his pregnant wife Garthene, and looks forward to being a father; and the youngish couple are striving to buy ‘a horrible maisonette’ in the brutal London property market. This extended adolescence is thus enforced, rather than embraced. Ray’s social background, as introduced at the party he attends at the beginning of the novel, is the ambitious middle class, educated enough to be ironic about it. ‘I’m getting the whiff of aspiration from your art collection, Lee,’ a woman says to the host. He replies: ‘Glad to hear it. Wouldn’t want Marie [his wife] to have spent all that money and not have anyone notice.’

Ray’s troubles are more arbitrary than gormlessly self-inflicted, allowing The Adulterants to dramatise the inadequacy of the social safety net. A series of calamities descends on Ray, following an outbreak of rioting in their London borough, in which he loses his (freelance) job and their (rented) flat — and worse. The main point throughout, however, is Ray’s voice: alienated, sardonic, pithy and frequently very funny.

But such is his ironic smart-assism, his first-person narration can sometimes fail to convey the narrative adequately; his actions are relayed as though in inverted commas.

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