This is a gristly, enjoyably intractable book, which concentrates 20 years of cultural change. As well as drugs and rock’n’roll – and, perhaps more importantly, money’n’status – it covers everything from sexual politics to the curious asexual male-groupie syndrome that reached its peak in the figure of the 70s roadie. If you want to know anything, indeed everything, about the general history of the music, Kitchenly 434 is your manual. But one of its most interesting features is the way in which Warner uses the image of the house itself as an air bridge between the cultural hollowness of the pre-Thatcherian interlude and the retrofitted fantasy of England that would soon emerge: Albion as a sort of giant walled garden littered with unachieved futures and the beautiful houses of the past.
Kitchenly 434 wants to be a period piece about Thatcherite ambition and the social upheaval that came with it, but it’s really an exercise in hazy nostalgia: typewriters and xerox machines and people drinking cans of Tizer and ordering chicken in a basket and bottles of Blue Nun. It’s in the writing, however, that you really wonder what’s gone wrong with Warner: sloppy redundancies — ‘one single street’ (as opposed to two single streets?) and a line of trees ‘all fully shielding the historic residence’ (if they’re all fully shielding it, what need for more than one?)
the piercing character study at the book’s heart is accompanied by a melancholy sense of an era ending. With the rise of punk, Fear Taker are no longer an all-conquering force — and with the election of Margaret Thatcher the glory days of Seventies bohemianism seem numbered too.
The only Warner novels mentioned on the dust jacket are Morvern Callar and The Sopranos. For his future books, I’d suggest, Kitchenly 434 richly deserves to join them.
Warner’s novel is a memorial to the rock star country house dream, an illusory Merrie England soon to be as bygone as the old-style phone number of the title. Sliding from comedy to elegy to a final moment of redemption, this is a lovely, idiosyncratic book, canny and generous and full of life.
Over the course of the novel we get various misadventures, involving disposing of human excrement with a slotted spoon, detached decorative spheres, the use of hosiery in fixing cars, and how to imprison an accountant or two. In some ways, as comedy, it is very much of its time, with Carry On pratfalls and the occasional leer about underwear. It is all perfectly silly, but that is not a criticism. There is a kind of schadenfreude about comedy where you keep thinking “that is exactly what I expected that pillock to do”.