Some books come into your life, and within a paragraph or two you know you will never be the same again. You want to rush to the end to find out what happens, but at the same time you can’t bear the thought of these characters being gone. Meet Me Under the Westway is not one of those books. I rattled through it as quickly as possible, and every page had me shouting at my husband about how bad it was.
Jem is a wannabe playwright living in west London (it is pointed out to us, in a tiresome fashion, that this is ‘real’ west London, not Hugh Grant’s Notting Hill). He’s in his 30s and, despite not having a proper job, not only manages to live on his own in a one-bedroom flat but spends his time hanging out in Holland Park and going to ‘old men’ pubs, poncey bars and wanky cafes in a post-modern and knowing fashion. When he’s not doing this (or moaning about girls and the fact that no one seems to recognise his genius, or shagging unsuspecting Eastern European barmaids) he’s at his local community theatre with other wannabe writers. Over the course of the novel, Jem gets jealous of a mate’s success, cops off with some girls, gets drunk, and has a bit of success himself. And that’s about it.
In case you were in any doubt, let me spell it out for you. Jem is a complete twat. He has a teenager’s snobby attitude to his hard-working middle class parents (at one point he’s too embarrassed to go to the pub with his dad), and the way he behaves towards women makes Ron Burgundy look like dream husband material. The writing is hopelessly clunky. A character is described as wearing a cream flannel suit and ‘the lapels of his jacket are flecked with dandruff’. How would said flecks show on a cream suit?? After a bout of bad behaviour with a girl, Jem realises he’s in the ’doggie house’. Yep, not a doggy bag or doggy style, but the ‘doggie house’. WTF? The flow and balance of the story is all wrong too. After 200 pages of Jem whining and doubting himself and drinking pints, his discovery and breakthrough as a writer and the staging of his first play is crammed into the last 40 pages.
Given that Thompson’s first novel was a semi-autobiographical study of a guy struggling to distance himself from his crime and drug-filled youth, I was amazed at the fatuous characters and vapid story in Westway. Perhaps he was trying to be ironic, but I felt like I was trapped in a really bad draft of an early David Nicholls novel, or a never-ending article by Danny Wallace.