‘Punctuation killed my wife.’
So opens Christopher Meredith’s novel, Please. Octogenarian Vernon, who’s never written anything longer than a memo, tries to write the story of his apparently unremarkable courtship and marriage from the 1960s to today. How should he do it? His lifelong obsessions are language and reading; most of what he knows about the world comes from dictionaries and reference books, and from these and the language of old novels he concocts and wrestles with his ‘voice’. From beneath Vernon’s comically elegant struggles and games with language a picture emerges of a man and woman across half a century, of how passion, infidelities, murderous fantasy and obsessions can be undercurrents even in the most ordinary of lives.
Please is a love story about the impossibility of being in love and the impossibility of telling stories. Sophisticated and controlled, it explores how hard it is to know yourself or others, how language has the power to conceal even as it reveals. How much can we know? How much can we say? Meredith’s fifth novel, full of humanity, sly humour and verbal invention, is his shortest and arguably his funniest, most innovative and most outrageous. It’s a tragicomedy touching on themes of the limits of knowledge, on isolation, and male frailty in new and playful ways. The whole gradually and inexorably unlocks the meanings of its extraordinary opening sentence in a complex and dazzling psychological and linguistic entertainment that ends in a surprising, dreamlike and ultimately moving denouement.