Richard, an Ad man, and Sarah, a city lawyer meet, get married, and decide to leave London behind for an idyllic country life instead. He'll do some drawing, maybe look into illustrating. She'll do voluntary work. They will start to Enjoy Life a bit more. They will become Better People. They will be the envy of all their friends still toiling away in the big smoke.
Reading this, you might think you know what the book is about. I certainly thought that, and yet I was wildly confused when I started reading. It's only 44 pages before they leave the city behind, and yet it feels so much longer as you read, for Richard's story at that point bares little resemblance to the Richard described above. I was expecting yuppie, but instead I got scally. He is a wildly unappealing man living a wildly unappealing life, and when we first meet him it's a struggle to see how he's going to get from where he is to where the blurb on the back suggests he will be. That first part really threw me, and I wondered whether it was going to pick up and get back on track, or at least the track I'd anticipated because there's nothing wrong with the first section, it was just entirely unexpected.
When the couple, and the story, moves to the village of Worth, though, things do start to change. Small town life is not like anything they've ever known, and while that is the whole point of their move, it still takes some getting used to. The locals are a different breed entirely, so it's a relief when Catherine shows up next door. She is nice. She is normal. She is independent. She doesn't think the only food worth eating is the sort that comes two-for-a-fiver in the local old man's pub. In a place where there's not much going on, Richard and Sarah are thrilled. There's still nothing to do, but now they at least have a new friend not to do it with. And so the book goes on.
I was a bit undecided about this one, because I couldn't quite see Richard and Sarah as the people who would make this life changing move in the first place. It all seemed a bit too easy, as if not enough thought had gone into it, and then when, within reason, it worked out, it still seemed like something wasn't quite right. If you ignore the characters, who of course are quite a fundamental part of the story, then what's left is a satire of some merit. I didn't struggle with the reading of it. It never ceased to feel odd to me, but it wasn't tough to get through. Some parts were even funny, but they seemed bolted on rather than integrated into the story at times, almost as if they were ideas or turns of phrase the author had been thinking about for awhile and was just keen to get into a piece of writing, even if they had to be crowbarred in.
What let the book down more, I felt, was how slow it seemed, both the happenings and the reactions. When the reaction to the discovery of a body is very much, oh dear there's been a murder, that's a shame you have to wonder exactly what sort of people we're dealing with here.
Ultimately, this wasn't the book for me. It wasn't the book I thought it would be, nor the book I wanted it to be. I didn't warm to Richard and Sarah the way I needed to to get most enjoyment out of this at times rather surreal novel. All the blurbs say they're escaping the rat race, but to me they still seemed like rats at the end of it. Richard was an odd choice for narrator, and I wonder how different it might have been had Sarah, or indeed Catherine, taken on this role.
This review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
Worth is out now in paperback and on Kindle