Friday, 14 November 2008
Scuba Dancing by Nicola Slade
At the end of a tiring week in London, I was in the mood for some undemanding company, and I found it amongst The Gang in Nicola Slade's first book, Scuba Dancing (scuba dancing?, said the librarian as she renewed it, and I giggled because, of course, it's an in-joke in the book). As with my newly found favourite Sleuth, Mrs Malory, The Gang are people you could imagine making friends with – none of them are spring chickens and have all known painful episodes in their lives, and they are comfortable together not playing bingo. I think I identified most with Delia, the old bat who has decorated her house almost entirely in pink and who likes to be outrageous, but all of them have a charm and vivacity which make you want to settle down in their company with a nice cup of tea.
Our protagonist, Finn, has escaped from an unhappy relationship – memo, never fall in love with your boss – to live with her older sister. Instead of finding a "proper" job she finds herself talking herself into a job as assistant to Hedgehog, proprietor of a shop which sells tarot cards and crystals, and even filling in as occasional clairvoyant. Meanwhile, her sister Julia and the other Gang members are fundraising, in slightly riotous fashion, for the holiday of a lifetime.
This is a strictly non-serious and comfy book, which recognises nonetheless the kind of difficulties which can go with increasing age – frail or difficult parents, financial insecurity, loneliness (the author, who looks positively slender in her photographs on the web, considerably underestimates the agonies of the expanding waistline, but this is my only criticism). There's a great deal to be said for spending time with people you like, whether you are a character in a novel or a reader, and Ursula's golden-eyed angel is worthy of a sequel in his own right. Meanwhile, I'm off to look for Nicola Slade's second book, Murder Most Welcome. For anyone who would like a taster, Nicola has posted a couple of short stories on her website, where you can also see some of her beautiful paintings.