Elanor Dymott’s third novel centres on a love affair between an English novelist, Elizabeth, aged 40, and Robert, an American architect, aged 52. Each comes with their own back story – Elizabeth has been coasting since the failure of her marriage (itself the sad result of fallout from the death of a child), holding a part of herself in reserve from the men she hooked up with; similarly, Robert has a failed marriage under his belt but he is not quite as clear of his previous partner as Elizabeth is. If you approached this book because you overheard someone compare it favourably to the Sharon Horgan / Rob Delaney sitcom, Catastrophe, you wouldn’t go far wrong.
Taking place over the course of six months in 2013 (which means the novel exists in a world where Louis CK can be mentioned in favourable terms – ah how quickly such things become historical), we know from the outset that this is a relationship that doesn’t work out (and by the end, as far as Elizabeth at the least is concerned, “it was as if a storm had torn the roof from over me”). Much like the early portion of Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, we dawdle in the heels of their relationship, following them to parties and gallery openings, hanging back as Robert is introduced to Elizabeth’s friends (Elizabeth knows some cool people who run a jazz club), wondering (as Elizabeth does) what it means when Robert fails to introduce Elizabeth to his son.
As our narrator we are privy to Elizabeth’s every vacillation, whereas Robert is always largely external to us – and the stranger elements of his character remain strange (and part of the strangeness may be as a result of the fact that Robert is monied, his marriage having been a wealthy exploit, and his movement in that world has become so routine that no one in the book remarks upon it). As you’d expect from any fledging romance, Elizabeth talks about the strangeness (the way he talks about his marriage, his reticence to make a decision about children in their future) with her friends and they remain unimpressed, advising her to ditch him and move on before it gets serious. But, you know, the sex is good (Dymott writes good sex) and they get to see a lot of great films together (Slack-Tide is a little bit of a cultural diary), so we get an interesting and intriguing six months.
Now, you could say that an affair between two educated people isn’t the most original story ever told, and you could also read the book and ask yourself, “really? This tore the roof off your house?” – but it is very pleasant, well written, amusing and, as you’d expect, intelligent. In the current climate you could definitely read it as a dissection of toxic masculinity, if you were that way inclined, but you could just as easily read it as a War of the Roses-style exploration of competing privilege (in that Slack-Tide exists in that ever so nice dinner party world familiar to viewers of Woody Allen’s largely sub par London films). There are a hundred ever so literary novels in which not very much happens in pristine, porcelain language that quivers like a chill Arctic wind however, and Slack-Tide is better than all of them.
Any Cop?: It’s highly readable (in that sense that you’ll glimpse up from the book and find you’ve read 50 pages) and warm and beguiling enough to make you wonder whether you should dabble with Dymott’s other books.