Friday, 26 October 2001

Sophie Hannah: gripless (1999)

Edition: Arrow, 1999
Review number: 976

Most readers of this novels will probably find themselves in one of three categories. Either they will find it hilarious, or the narrator intensely irritating, or these feelings will alternate. This last group is the one in which I find myself.

Belinda Nield has a wonderful new job, as creative writing tutor at a Berkshire drama school. She also is several years into a comfortable relationship. But all thought goes out of her head when, at rehearsals for the summer play, she meets teenager Tony Lamb, and falls hopelessly in love (losing her grip on reality, hence the title). Everything is stacked against the relationship working out the way she wants it to: the age gap, her job (and the distinct possibility that she might lose it if she has an affair with a student), her partner, Tony's seeming indifference and total inarticulacy, his past (he is taken on at the request of his social worker, who thinks a drama production might be good for his problem, the specifics of which Belinda doesn't initially know).

A lot of Gripless is sharp, intelligent, well observed and very funny. Belinda is essential to this, but I kept on feeling that someone should give her a good shake and shock her out of believing that she is in love with someone to whom she has not even spoken (he utters a total of about fifty words in the entire novel).

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