- 28 Feb 20
Softened By Time's Consummate Plush
As The Clash once memorably sang “You grow up, and you calm down.” Bollocks, of course. You don’t have to if you choose not to. Spike, Hensher’s narrator, and his partner Joaquin, a Chilean man driven at an early age from his own country, are still ready to chuck a brick for what they believe in despite comfortable middle age.
The novel begins in 80’s Sheffield where the teenaged Spike first falls in with a crowd of would-be revolutionaries at his school – know-it-all Percy Ogden and son of an Eartha Kitt obessed mother James Frinton amongst them. Through them, he meets the slightly-older members fo the Spartacist League. They break up a few meetings but the main result is the life-long love between Spike and Joaquin.
Members of this once radical group of friends go on to become home secretary, a peer and a lousy newspaper columnist. Principals have been discarded in pursuit of advancement. There’s a rape, and the possibility of a murder is at least hinted at, according to the stories that are shared when Spike and Joaquin have a chance encounter on a German holiday, a meeting which, although crucial to the narrative, is a bit too coincidental to be believed.
As much as I love The Clash, let me paraphrase Homer Simpson here and say that I too remember when I was young and I used to care about stuff, so it might be easy to tut and say that these characters compromised nothing, they simply grew up, but, on the other hand, there’s something admirable about the principled central pair, and something deeply flawed about the stop-at-nothing aspirations of their former friends. One of those books where you turn each page waiting for something to happen only to realise at the end that quite a few things did.