x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

There But For The: Nightmare soirée of 21st century England

A family whose dinner guest locks himself in the spare bedroom and makes himself at home serves as a showpiece of all the eccentricities of modern Britain.

Ali Smith's fifth novel hangs on the kind of plot device that would send a shiver down the spine of the chattering classes who populate the southern counties and the capital of England. In case you are unfamiliar with this breed, these are people obsessed with how much their house is worth and, above all, in being seen to do the right thing.

The book's central character is Miles "Milo" Garth, who is invited to a dinner party at the "gracious, old, historic Greenwich town house" of Genevieve and Eric Lee.

In the middle of this lovely soirée - right after his host had served home-cooked, seared scallops as a starter and lamb tagine for the main course, and just before Genevieve is about to dish up crème brûlée with chilli-vanilla ice cream - Milo leaves the table to wander upstairs, where he locks himself in the spare bedroom (thankfully, en suite, notes Genevieve) and makes himself at home. Thus, the Lee family has to come to terms with a "stranger living in our house against our will".

By locking Milo in, Smith also willingly opens the door on the stifling world that is little England in the 21st century.