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"My name is Justin Alexander Torquhil Edward Peregrine Montague, but my father calls me 'you little bollocks', or 'you bloody twit' or when he is in a really good mood, 'old cock.' "
With this opening line, Mark Macauley clearly establishes his tone. Just entering his teens, Justin is the youngest of 3 children in a dysfunctional Anglo-Irish family. It is June 1963 and the US President, John F Kennedy, is visiting Ireland - his parents and their servants are very excited, although Justin is wrapped up in his own preoccupations, including a growing sexual awareness and his best friend Annie.
There is a lot to like in this novel. I liked Macauley's writing style and found it an easy, quick read. The first person narrative gives it immediacy and drew me in. Justin is just about old enough for it to be believable that he has learned so many of the family's secrets from the observation and from conversations with the servants. He writes some sharp, darkly witty lines. Although this is his first novel, Macauley has worked as a screenwriter and he clearly brings his experience to the writing of dialogue.
It isn't the most cheerful novel - Justin's parents are always angry with each other and with him. Justin and his two older sisters were brought up by nannies and taken in and dressed up to play with their mum for about half an hour.
Many of the characters remain a bit shadowy, and perhaps this is a limitation of having a very young first person narrator. In some ways Justin doesn't really know his mother that well, he learns a lot about her drinking and how it started from the servants, and he is away a lot of the time at boarding school in England. The exception to this is Annie, who is far more real to Justin and thus to the reader.
Justin's account of the events which take place over this summer is interspersed with sections of third person narrative in italics, often to reveal what he doesn't know about his family. The trouble is that this made the story a bit disjointed.
The House of Slamming Doors is interesting and well written, if not entirely successful, and I would certainly look out for future work by this author.
Published by the Lilliput Press May 2010
RRP £10.99; Amazon sale price January 2011 - £8.40