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Know-how kow-tow and air-conditionersFragrant Harbourby John Lanchester299pp FaberJohn Lanchesters first novel The Debt to Pleasure delighted gourmets and others - the former because its principal character is a disciple of Brillat Savarin devoted to gustatory ecstasy as a good man might be devoted to virtue the latter just for the jokes All enjoyed his ruthless life the more keenly because the author was the blameless food correspondent of a national newspaperIt is a charming book but its successor the less challengingly entitled Mr Phillips is more than that - equally original yet in its quieter way more adventurous gentler but more shocking It seems Lanchester understands just as much about his middle-aged heros failed pursuit of pleasure sexual for the most part but mingled with statistical daydreams how often do he and his wife do it compared with the rest of humanity At what speed would you hit the water if you jumped off the Chelsea bridge or off the Clifton suspension bridge as he does about cheese and wineAn accountant all his working life Mr Phillips has lost his job and says he is not anything now but he is in fact really something The detail of the day we spend with him is accurate and sometimes painful Since he has not yet informed his wife of his redundancy Mr Phillips sets out from home as usual as if he was on his way to the City He passes the day wandering about London from one scrape or surprise to the next at one moment a sucker in a porn show at another a credible hero in a bank during a robbery The voice that tells the story is sympathetic ironic and funnyMr Phillips established Lanchester as among the best youngish novelists around so it seems likely that anybody who has read it will open Fragrant Harbour with high expectations The title is a translation of Hong Kong and most of the story takes
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