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1 review for Carnaval

  1. Martin Cooper

    Do you buy into the millennials’ line about the older generation stealing their birthright? Me neither. The baby boomer in me wants to scream: Rubbish! Get a grip!

    But… but… but…

    SA Finlay’s debut novel introduces two groups of characters: twenty-somethings (who are mostly broke) and fifty-somethings (mostly loaded). Carnaval, an unsuccessful barrister but still reluctantly one of the latter, reels between them, amiable, well-meaning and half-cut.

    Finlay approaches the generation gap cleverly, using a different narrative style for each side. The parents’ story is told in traditional mode.

    ‘Carnaval sighed and nodded. “It’s true. But I’m not sure I caused you, you know. Are you not on any medication? You’re awfully angry.” Carnaval looked tired suddenly and melancholy, all his grin melted and his mouth turned down as if he might burst into tears. Anne glared and threw her arms up in the air. Too late. Carnaval pulled an orange silk handkerchief from his trouser pocket and blew into it as he wept. Great big tears.’

    The young people’s story is told largely through dialogue – sharp, contemporary and often funny.

    ‘“Things will be quieter. It’ll be different. I feel like I’ve been on cocaine for ten years and now it’s run out,” sighed Honoré.
    “I feel like you made me take cocaine for ten years and now it’s run out.”
    “I suppose we need to do some form of rehab, then?”
    “Oh no. We’re not going to see that nutty cow. Her hair’s probably floor length by now. And she chants all the time. And her home is a pigsty. And all those weirdos that pop by, and those feral cats.”
    “No, no. Not mum. Christ no.”’

    London, meanwhile, is a character in its own right. We’ve come a long way since Blair’s Cool Britannia, when they cleaned the stone and picked up the litter. This is the post-crash decade. Sometimes you feel that Finlay is channelling Bleak House.

    ‘It rained outside; it had rained for the first two weeks of March now, and London’s workers and non-workers tipped into and out of offices, into and out of buses and taxis and tubes and pubs and bars and shops, where they wrung themselves out over each other and fogged up every interior with the condensation from their banter.’

    A London of contrasts, black-tie invitation-only events in grand north London houses (we all know what that means) and shabby flats over bicycle repair shops in Eltham.

    The cover blurb describes Carnaval as “a contemporary mystery”. This may be a bit misleading to readers who like genre stories. No detectives here, and no thrills. More a melancholy comedy of manners, but one with a warm, rich ending in which some of the characters at least somehow reach a truce with their elders and with themselves.

    Come to think of it, perhaps it is a mystery at that.

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