Low behaviour

<strong>A Short Gentleman</strong>

Jon Canter <em>Jonathan Cape, 384pp £16.99</em>

Across numerous pages of straight-to-laptop short paragraphs, the scriptwriter Jon Canter's Seeds of Greatness (2006) assumed that comic fiction can substitute gags for character and situation. Fortunately that misfire provided no discouragement from the leap to this second, exhilarating novel.

Diminutive, engagingly pompous Robert Purcell's first-person narrative begins with him, aged eight, mooting a future Who's Who entry. Through the later 20th century, Robert's destiny appears assured, but this memoir's references to his crime suggest that domestic and amatory rebuff turned more than sour. Say no more. Made of sterner stuff than postmodern trickery, it evinces real feeling amid such observations as "'natural flooring', a curious phrase which suggested to me there would be mud and snakes underfoot", or a sister's phone-in advice programme resembling "a cabbie with a microphone".

Brilliantly plotted, taking in much of England from chambers to supermarket aisles, it has many twists that find room for salty, perhaps actionable asides about Harriet Harman and Hugh Grant; I shall not supply page references because they, too, will find Canter’s romp a gallop, which should also alleviate the Booker judges’ hideous task.