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Fay Weldon paints bleak picture of future in novel

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Author Fay Weldon sets her latest novel only four years in the future, but by then Britain's currency has collapsed, inflation has soared and the bailiffs are knocking on the door of London's middle class.

"Chalcot Crescent" is a bleak vision of what might happen if hopes of a global economic recovery turn out to be false.

The story opens with Frances, an 80-year-old writer and "one-time national treasure," cowering in her home as the debt collectors pound on her front door.

The fact that the book is named after a street in London's upmarket Primrose Hill, home to the rich and famous, underlines Weldon's belief that no one is likely to be spared.

"It seems to me a perfectly possible outcome within four years," said Weldon, a leading British author most commonly associated with the feminist movement.

"Unless we are very, very lucky, there will be a double dip, there will be inflation, there will be a collapse of the currency so you go back to bartering between nations," the 77-year-old told Reuters in an interview.

Even what she calls the "barrister classes" are already feeling the pinch in the real world.

"I think everybody has felt it and everybody is now in the recovery which is the false hope. Of course, I hope it's not the case, but for the sake of the writer you kind of want it to come true, I'm afraid."

In her novel, the Shock of 2008 is followed by the Crunch of 2009-11, a brief Recovery of 2012 and then the Bite of 2013.

Frances, the narrator of the story who is the younger sister that Fay never had, blames the younger generation for economic collapse that has brought the country to the brink of anarchy.

"We brought freedom of thought, sexual liberation, imagination, creativity, wealth," she muses. "They just spent."

HOPE AMID THE GLOOM

Weldon, who maintains a cheery disposition as she talks of a dystopian Britain, said some good could come of the recession, particularly for women.

"People are trying to have families rather more, because if you can't spend you have to look at the family and the household you live in and make it agreeable and that might, in the long run, be not a bad thing.

"In a recession you may well find them (women) doing better," she added. "You always need somebody to make the bed and after the palace coup the chambermaid doesn't get shot though everybody else does."

Recent articles on Weldon have focused on her views on feminism, which, she admits, have mellowed since the 60s, 70s and 80s when she wrote novels like "The Life and Loves of a She-Devil" and, in the words of one interviewer, "encouraged women to be bad."

"Once upon a time you had to be strongly feminist and say men were no different from women because the position was such that you had to overstate your case all the time," she said.

"We are now in a position where surely one is better able to face the truth and perhaps fewer marriages would break up, and we would have more stable family units, if women didn't insist on men cleaning the loo."

Elements of Weldon's life work their way into Chalcot Crescent, and, although she is a successful and respected writer unlike her character Frances, Weldon had to move publishers in order to get her 29th novel into print.

"In a way I'm not blaming them, because I was so delinquent, because they have a right to expect ... the book that you said you'd give them," she said.

Chalcot Crescent is published by Corvus on September 1.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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