Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Kate Clancy's novel Meeting the English was one of those books that popped up on my reading radar and seemed just quirky enough to make me want to read it.  In the opening pages, English playwright Phillip Prys has a stroke.  While he's past the most productive part of his career, some of his works have attained enough literary attention that they are taught in schools, including the school Struan Robertson attends in a Scottish mining town.

Surviving the stroke but with almost no visible signs of intelligence, he is brought back to the house he shares with his young Iranian wife Shirin, but which his will leaves to his ex-wife MyFawny, the mother of his less-than-impressive children. While all the parties involved are at odds with one another, what they all share is the impression that their life without Prys certainly won't be any worse and, especially in the case of Myfawny, her prospects would improve considerably.

His daughter Juliet, sixteen, on the surface a spectacularly shallow girl, has a weight problem--an odd contrast to her best friend's anorexia--and has just taken exams, without much hope of passing. Her older brother Jake has been dismissed from school but tells his mother he's in Edinburgh performing in a play.

When Struan's English teacher sees the ad for a caretaker for Prys, he suggests the boy take it, since his admission to dental school has been deferred. Struan, an awkward, poorly dressed young man whose name everyone mispronounces, is the only person with any genuine interest in caring for Phillip Prys and helping him to recover. Without actually play a do-gooder, he manages to develop a positive relationship with Juliet and a number of the peripheral characters.

The transformation of Clanchy's characters, particularly the way she allows Juliet to become a sympathetic figure, engages readers in this light, but intriguing little story. No one, except perhaps Struan, is what he or she appears to be--some better, some worse.  The appearance-vs-reality motif never becomes a farce though.

Clanchy has spun a story won't ever be taught in the literature classes of Scottish mining towns (or North Carolina furniture towns either), but she entertains. And at summer's end, that's enough for me.

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