three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
By: 
Fay Weldon
user_rating: 
0

A-Chalcot CrescentFay Weldon (1931–) is a prolific British writer of more than 20 novels and 50 scripts. Her novels, written in her distinctively witty experimental prose, often feature women trapped in a male-dominated society. Chalcott Crescent, her 29th novel, is a work of dystopian fiction set in a totalitarian England.

The Story: In 2013, in a parallel London, the NUG (National Union Government), in all its Big Brotherishness, rules the day, and the National Meatloaf (the recipe of which is shrouded in mystery) is the food for the masses. In this quirky SF dystopia, 80-year-old Frances, the unborn sister of Fay (in real life, Fay's mother miscarried a child when Fay was two years old), is alive and well. Fay, on the other hand, has been banished to Canberra. Frances recalls events from her past while attempting to save her apartment from foreclosure and navigating the chaotic present of her politically active extended family and friends. Weldon fans will find that Frances and Fay share much in common, including their novelist careers and failed marriages.
Europa Editions. 240 pages. $15. ISBN: 9781933372792

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Weldon's mischievous blend of fact and fiction produces a hybrid that is at once futuristic satire, tragedy and tongue-in-cheek memoir which contains ‘some embroidery of the truth.' The plot is bonkers, but enormous fun because in this parallel world the personal really is the political." Amanda Craig

Economist 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Like the crumbling home in which the narrator finds herself trapped, Chalcot Crescent rambles and occasionally stoops under the weight of its own complications. With the indomitable Frances as a guide, however, Ms Weldon's novel is never less than a pleasure to read." Prospero

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For all of its near-future noirish trappings and despite a large, too large, cast of characters, little happens in Chalcot Crescent. ... And that's just fine, because it's in Frances' satirical mini-rants, aphorisms and meandering recollections, not in the novel's apocalyptic litanies ... that Chalcot Crescent comes alive." Tom De Haven

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Weldon] channels Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984 as she creates her own version of a dystopian critique. Luckily, her futuristic plotline is delivered with wry humor and democratic affection for failed ideals everywhere--in marriages and causes as well as in governments." Beth Taylor

Observer (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"Though Weldon often sacrifices characterisation in order to focus on ideas about nature, nurture and the importance of family, it's her fresh take on the [SF] genre staples that makes Chalcot Crescent stand out. ... Few fans will complain at this chance to read more of her provocative ideas about society." Alice Fisher

Guardian (UK) 2.5 of 5 Stars
"So there is, sure enough, much to admire in Chalcot Crescent. But the admiration might be more heartfelt if the writing were less self-conscious." Diana Athill

New Yorker 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Though the book's wit is dumbed by rambling narrative loops, Weldon's satire bracingly shows that no matter the society, ‘the sum of human happiness, human anxiety remained about the same.'" Louis Menand

Critical Summary

"I am not cynical. I am just old. I know what is going to happen next," says Frances in Weldon's latest mix of memoir, fiction, and diary. But, in fact, it is difficult to predict what will happen next in Chalcot Crescent, as it is "essentially plotless" (Seattle Times). Readers may find themselves confused by the myriad unnecessary characters and offshoots from the main story. And while Weldon's dystopia of Red Peace (stemming from Greenpeace) and communal vegetable plots is witty and creative, Frances's recollections may seem familiar: as in many of Weldon's previous novels, the heroine's life mimics the author's. Still, Weldon's prose, clever, humorous, and satirical, remains brilliant as well as eminently quotable, and most readers should find plenty to enjoy in the adventures of the latest incarnation of Fay.