Novel of the week

Rescue Me

Christopher Hart <em>Faber, 232pp, £9.99</em>

ISBN 0571206255

Much of this very funny book revolves around the clarinettist Daniel Swallow's attempts to reconcile himself with his new role as a prostitute. Along the way, he asks, cleverly, if we are not "all prostitutes of some form". Most of his clients are elderly, wealthy, married women who are either after a "quick fix" or keen to explore a fantasy. But this is not a sexual adventure story (sorry, boys); more an exploration of the nature of relationships.

Swallow, who in his previous incarnation as an advertising executive accidentally killed three popular television celebrities, is cynical about love and friendship. He has a quasi-Oedipal relationship with his mother, fancies his landlady (as well as her daughter), lusts after one friend's mother and is in love with Beth, his best friend's girlfriend - who mistakenly books him for a "revenge poke" after a row with her boyfriend.

The troubled relationship between Daniel and Beth, conducted largely in secret, is the main focus of the novel. She represents danger and excitement, with a wild past and a fairly wild present. Daniel finds himself irresistibly drawn to her. He knows he will get burnt, but doesn't care - at least, not at first. Their blossoming romance is used by Hart to conduct a search for perfect love - what happens once the passion inevitably burns out? Monogamy is lambasted as unnatural, while adultery is compared with prostitution. And how much is forgivable when love is at stake? Hart doesn't supply any easy answers, choosing instead to explore the possibilities in a variety of sub-plots.

Rescue Me is peopled with characters who are all middle-class and above. They eat in Kensington or Covent Garden, attend the opera, collect oil paintings, play squash and tootle on the clarinet. None of them shops at Iceland or watches Coronation Street. Swallow's friends have conversations concerning the battle of the sexes, the nature of love and the futility of western religion - all part of the malaise of the "me generation". I wish my male friends were as interesting as that.

The life of a male escort is portrayed as well paid, exciting and cultured, yet ultimately unfulfilling and lonely. If I ever accidentally kill off some celebrities, I may give it a whirl. Now where did I put my clarinet?

Matthew Jennings is a scriptwriter

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2001 issue of the New Statesman, How long have we got?