Article published on May 10, 2016.
Two very shallow reasons for picking up this book: one, I find the way Scrabble letters have become ‘franchised’ in the last few year quite fascinating. So the cover of Lingua Franca, which employs something very similar to Scrabble’s format, caught my eye*.
Second and even shallower, William Thacker was the Hugh Grant character in Notting Hill, a guilty pleasure of mine – but surely this can’t be some clever man-manipulation? Apparently not, having checked him out on google – he was only 13 when the film was released.
And having ‘fessed up on this shallowness it seems appropriate to recount how cleverly Mr Thacker’s character, Miles Platting**, spins out his story. For it is the public’s gullibility (nay, shallowness) that has provided him with a living: the concept that you can solve a town or city’s problems by selling the naming rights to a multinational corporation for mega bucks. Well, it works for football stadia so why shouldn’t it work for, say, Doncaster, which was rebranded as Waterstones (surely an author’s in joke, complete with missing apostrophe?).
I smirked at the subtle hierarchy of towns which would employ Lingua Franca’s services. Obviously not Oxford, Cambridge or Bath who won’t even take their calls; yellow level are the minor posh towns – Cheltenham and Winchester (!); beige includes Reading, Colchester, Maidstone; and bottom of the pile – Cumbernauld, Canvey Island and Barrow-in-Furness.
The latter becomes our focus as the Lingua Franca team move in to replace signage and local thinking in the newly designated Birdseye-in-Furness. Co-conspirator Nigel directs operations like a virtual traffic cop in this very 21st century, cutting edge world – until things go awry. There’s a parallel strand with Miles’s wife, Kendal, (an unusual name for a woman and another place name?) that dips in and out, not always convincingly.
I did enjoy this book but felt there was a certain ‘knowingness’ that I didn’t always catch – but that’s my fault not the author’s. You’ll probably curl your lip when I admit that I turn down the corners of pages that I’d like to find again – and there were far more turned down pages in my proof copy than for a long, long time so that suggests I was fully engaged. Truth is, I’d love to be part of a reading group discussion of this book as I’m sure it would be one where the scales drop from the eyes as other members share their impressions.
*I believe the owners of Scrabble are very protective of their intellectual property so perhaps the word allegedly should appear in here somewhere?
**Miles Platting, by the way, is apparently an area of Manchester that is in the running as one of the worst places to live in Britain – surely another level of deviousness from Mr Thacker?
Lingua Franca by William Thacker
Legend Press pbk May 2016