Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 11, 2009

The Taxi Queue, by Janet Davey

thetaxiqueue_Perhaps I’m doing this little novel an injustice (because I read it in the middle of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, a time when my mind was numb and my emotions frayed) but I found it rather odd and faintly repellent.  The blurb compared Davey’s writing to that of Penelope Fitzgerald but I fail to see any resemblance at all.

The Taxi Queue is about Richard: a very ordinary, conservative man, with a good job, nice house, nice family (two kids, churchy wife) – and he picks up gay men for casual sex.  He does this with Abe (at the taxi queue).  Abe is a much younger, somewhat lazy sort of creative type who occasionally does drugs.  Abe and his sister Kirsty inherited a London house from their estranged father; he lives upstairs and she lives downstairs.  They’re not close. Kirsty has a layabout boyfriend called Luka that she is having trouble persuading to leave.

It’s a curiously disconnected tale.  Jerky discontinuous sentences, a surfeit of trivial detail that seems to lead nowhere, and a cast of characters that have no appeal at all.  When Vivienne, Richard’s wife finds the card with Abe’s phone number on it, and traipses across London to Kirsty’s place only to be told a lot of lies by Abe, I found myself not caring whether Richard was exposed or not.  This is not how I expected to react: in general I don’t have much time for bi-men who cheat on their unknowing wives and expose them to health risks.  But Vivienne was such a cardboard cut-out character that I failed to feel for her.

I found it irritating, because of the false plot trails. I see from the Guardian review that the reviewer had the same problem.   Like me, Steve Davies found that he ‘kept waiting for the plot to unfold. It refused to oblige. At every crisis, the author dodges exciting upshots, withholds romantic gratification’.

Davies, however, doesn’t find this tiresome:

Janet Davey’s subtle and challenging third novel, set in a carefully mapped London and its environs, begins and ends at Paddington, the place of transients. Its events mimic the blurred, unheroic something-and-nothing of real life, in which coincidences just fail to happen, big chances are missed, phone calls are not answered, and people inhabit a state of chronic ordinariness, “all right, neither better nor worse, like a packet of sugar at the back of a cupboard”. Jogged out of the usual in a chain reaction, characters achieve a flustered and largely inarticulate state of uncertainty, as change ripples unsatisfactorily along a group, setting up a paltry kinesis that peters out in insights that fall short of revelation.

In his opinion  ‘the novel artfully stints its reader both of the gratifications of romance and of richly textured characterisation, compelling the unnerving question: “Is this all there is?”

Artful?  I don’t think so.

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