Like her older brother Boris, Rachel Johnson is one of those incorrigible characters you can’t help liking. The same goes for her novels. Fresh Hell is the third of her Notting Hell trilogy and even though the storyline is thin and involves an interminably dull planning row the wit and the gossip are so addictive that it’s impossible to stop reading.
The plot centres on ex-journalist and mother-of-four Mimi Fleming, who’s moving back to her old Notting Hill life from the wilds of West Dorset. Since she’s been away her smart friends have become richer, thinner and younger than they were before. Not only that, they’re busy building vast basement extensions underneath their mega-million-pound houses in a chic Notting Hill garden square – at huge cost and mega disruption to their neighbours.
Planning disputes aside, Johnson’s eagle-eyed observations of Notting Hill life are hilarious – from teenagers who watch clips of Lord of the Flies on YouTube rather than reading the book (they claim nobody does these days) to the scenes of stylish yummy mummies on the school run. As Johnson says: “They don’t just wear Stella McCartney for Adidas, they really are Stella McCartney, and Claudia Schiffer, Laura Bailey and so on…”
One of my favourite scenes takes place at a lavish 50th birthday party at Tate Modern, attended by real-life characters like David Cameron and his wife Sam. I loved the description of the PM as “taller than I thought, with the ruddy glow of a yeoman farmer and backswept brown hair,” gesturing to Sam Cam “like a successful estate agent showing off his prime property.”
The novel includes a glossary of key acronyms, which is lucky because I didn’t have a clue what most of them meant. NFNH apparently stands for Normal for Notting Hill and VVPP is a Very, Very Pushy Parent (of whom there are a lot in the book).
The wonderful Jilly Cooper provides a cover-line, praising Fresh Hell as “lethally funny and so clever.” I agree with her, althought there are so many characters in the book that Johnson should have emulated Cooper and provided a cast list to help her readers remember who on earth is who, and more importantly who on earth is cheating on who – and who with.
Fresh Hell by Rachel Johnson (Penguin, £7.99)