I suspect that Tim Lott is a misunderstood man. He writes about grotesque characters in a sympathetic way and people imagine this is because he wants the characters to be admired.
In When We Were Rich, we re-encounter the characters from White City Blue - four lads living in and around the White City estate in West London. Frankie Blue is an estate agent; Nodge is a taxi driver who has recently come out as gay; Colin is a computer geek; and Diamond Tony is persona non grata following an incident on a golf course.
Picking up almost immediately from the end of White City Blue, we follow these characters and their newly found partners from the eve of the false Millennium (the real millennium started in 2001); through the boom years of the New Labour project and into the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.
What Tim Lott does, seemingly effortlessly, is capture the atmosphere around major events and show how ordinary people responded to them. He holds up a mirror to ourselves and if we don't like what we see, we have only ourselves to blame. In When We Were Rich, we see the naked greed around the London housing market. We see people who believe they deserve the wealth they have accumulated through owning property - and expect to be able to repeat the feat for ever. We see people who judge others by their income, their job, their postcode. And because we have lived through these times ourselves, we know it won't end well. It's Rumours of a Hurricane twenty years on.
I believe firmly that Tim Lott wants readers to sneer at his characters, not admire them or aspire to be them. Whether it is venal Frankie, selfish Vronky, lazy Roxy, the vain and hypocritical Fraser, the psychopathically angry Tony - they are all there to be mocked. Especially Fraser, the fifty-year old ripped EasyJet pilot - promiscuous on the gay scene while demanding fidelity from Nodge - turning up to Labour Party meetings to lament the fall of Militant. A thoroughly vile man in every way.
When We Were Rich is the perfect summation of London in the 2000s, just as White City Blue was for the 1990s and Hurricane was for the 1980s. It is an easy, enjoyable read with much humour and quite a bit to say about class struggle and karma.
Most readers will hate When We Were Rich if reviews of Tim Lott's past works are anything to go by. Their loss.
Tim Lott is, to my mind, a close second to Nick Hornby in the "lad lit" stakes. This is his third novel after winning the 1999 Whitbread First Novel award for his excellent "White City Blue".
The racy title is somewhat misleading. The novel is narrated by Daniel "Spike" Savage, a 45 year old advertising exec in the midst of an acrimonious divorce from Beth. As with Rob in Hornby's "High Fidelity", Spike believes he can make sense of his life through making a list, in this case of the "love secrets" he has learned over the years, so he takes us through his romantic history, sharing the wisdom he has acquired along the way. Given that his marriage is breaking down around him, his conclusions are, not surprisingly, somewhat jaundiced, but the novel's conclusion does offer him some hope and shows up his so-called secrets for what they really are.
Although Danny is not entirely likeable - he's rather full of himself, smugly middle class and solipsistic - he makes a realistic everybloke, making many of the mistakes men are prone to making in relationships. Given Danny's situation, this could easily have become quite a bleak, bitter novel, and it is to Lott's credit that Danny does not come across as just irritatingly self-pitying.
The novel's style lent itself very well to audiobook, since it is basically a monlogue. Like Hornby's work, women will find this educational, men a little more honest than they'd like. This is no great literary work, and does not step outside the conventions of the genre in which it firmly sits, but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless.