This is an enjoyable novel which raises some big themes but then rather leaves them sitting there, perhaps for the reader to take away and think about (a generous interpretation) or just because the author over reached herself.
The big themes are the misplaced optimism of the 1960s; the enduring influence of parents on children; and the self doubt of people reaching maturity in the early 21st century. When I say ‘people’, I mean middle class Oxford graduates, about whom this novel is predominantly written.
I actually read it on the recommendation of a friend. We were talking about music and he expressed the view that there is only good music and bad music and the 30 or so years after 1955 had been a golden age. He disagreed with those who thought pop music was just an ephemeral reflection of the times. He believed in its aesthetic value and that it could be differentiated accordingly. I mentioned something my most beloved school teacher had said. He was a product of the sixties and when he said this, in the late seventies, it was prescient. He said that he and his generation should feel a lot of guilt for what they had done with drugs. He died very young, of lung cancer. But I still think of him often.
This is a small aspect of the novel but the larger idea, that the generations that followed the war have all been looking for a defining purpose equal to that which fell to their parents, is central.
There are some quibbles – would someone arriving in LA after driving all the way across America really be all that amazed by a barbecue? Are some of the characters a bit two dimensional?
But it is an engrossing read, well paced, with some interesting ideas behind the story.