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Glorious suburbia

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Essay | 25 minute read
A writer looks beyond its soulless reputation to argue that suburbia is where most of us come from; it’s the place we return to every night after work or where our parents still live; and it has spawned great literature

‘This is the tale of an Avenue in a suburb and of some of the people who lived in that Avenue … About the time the story starts the word “suburban” was beginning to acquire the meaning it has today. It is never said without a sneer or a hint of patronage. This is curious, for three-quarters of our population continue to reside in suburbs of one sort or another; they are not unlike other folk, and quite capable of extending their dreams beyond the realms of the 8:25 out and the 5:48 in. They dream, in fact, as consistently, and as extravagantly as anyone else.’ – R. F. Delderfield, The Dreaming Suburb (1958)

‘You look at Croydon and no one ever breaks out from the crowd.’ – Stormzy (2015)

I seem to have spent much of my life explaining Croydon, a thankless task for which I have rarely received thanks; a Sisyphean one too. No matter how many times I stand up for the much-loathed borough someone will tell me to sit down. Usually I can shoulder the boulder as far as Upper Norwood but then it rolls all the way back to Purley and I have to start again. The name Croydon is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon croeas deanas, meaning ‘the valley of the crocuses’, like you give a shit.

When my book The Year of Reading Dangerously was, for reasons no one involved can now recall, published in America, my editor at Harper Perennial asked me to make a handful of transatlantic substitutions and clarifications – ‘dumpster’ for ‘skip’; ‘stroller’ for ‘pushchair’; Hancock, the 1961 BBC television sitcom starring Tony Hancock not to be confused with Hancock, the 2008 superhero action comedy-drama film starring Will Smith; and so on. In the book I described my childhood passion for reading and how, growing up in the area, Croydon’s bookshops and libraries were very important to me and set me on the path in life I have followed to this day; the publisher duly requested a new footnote interpreting Croydon for the benefit of American readers. Here’s what I wrote:

‘For US readers, Croydon is a suburb of south London, synonymous with much that is perceived to be drab and depressing about British suburbia. In 1999, the rock star David Bowie said in an interview, “It represented everything I didn’t want in my life, everything I wanted to get away from. I think it’s the most derogatory thing I can say about something or someone: ‘God, it’s so fucking Croydon!’.” As will become apparent in this section, this is not a view I share with Mr “Stardust” (sic), who grew up not on the planet Mars, as he would have you believe, but in the neighbouring suburb of Bromley.’

I’m sure this footnote claiming Bowie was suffering from Croydon envy left many American readers none the wiser – which, in one respect at least, was editorially consistent with the rest of the book.

Suburbia is where most of us come from; it’s the place we return to every night after work or where our parents still live. In America, a succession of writers has chronicled the suburban existence: Richard Yates, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Celeste Ng and more. Yet when suburbia features in British fiction, if it features at all, it is usually as somewhere that isn’t the countryside and isn’t the city, a location which only exists to be escaped from. There are still surprisingly few novels content to dwell in the places many of us are content to dwell.

In Britain, the suburbs are always small-minded, bourgeois, suffocating. This is a literary convention which stretches back to the nineteenth century, dealt with humorously in the Grossmiths’ Diary of a Nobody and more sternly elsewhere. As gleefully detailed by John Carey in his 1992 book The Intellectuals and the Masses, several generations of writers and artists, from E. M. Forster and H. G. Wells to modernists such as Virginia Woolf or T. S. Eliot, even George Orwell, were horrified by the swarming middle classes, jumped-up clerks and opinionated shop workers with ideas above their station, building nasty red-brick villas on the meadows and pastures of their youth. They pursued this topic at length in their essays, novels and poetry, notes Carey, in a manner sufficiently obscure to prevent such ghastly plebs being able to understand it. As I wrote in The Year of Reading Dangerously, ‘How they loathed us, with our little patch of garden, our packed commuter trains, our despicable, belching crematoria – even when we die, they must suck our greasy ashes into their plutocratic lungs.’

But that was then. I have before me the new novel by a gentleman it would be fair and accurate to describe as a pillar of the British literary establishment. The protagonist of this novel is a journalist (and frustrated novelist) who lives in Haringey and works for the books pages of a broadsheet newspaper. After the death of his pal Rob, a well-regarded poet, he is required to visit Rob’s widow Jill at their house in ‘a place in Kent called Hadingfield’, an hour-long train ride from Charing Cross: ‘Semi-Land, [Rob] called it, “because everyone’s half dead”.’ Good one, Rob. ‘Only when pressed,’ reveals the narrator, ‘did he admit that he and Jill would have more space, a garden, some peace and quiet.’

Our hero makes the hour-long journey from Charing Cross to provincial Kent and, whilst walking from Hadingfield station to his late friend’s house, notes his impressions:

‘I shouldn’t have found the neighbourhood surprising, but its blandness shocked me all the same: the net curtains, toytown roof tiles, neat front gardens, glossy front doors. VOTE CONSERVATIVE posters decorated a couple of bow windows, whether as gloating reminders of the last general election result or as early campaigning for next month’s local council elections. Towards the end of the street a woman emerged from her house, an automatic smile on her face as she went through her exit sequence: the five beeps on the alarm keypad in her hallway; the slam of the front door; the click of her heels down the garden path; the clack of the gate latch; the uck-thuck of the car doors unlocking as she thumbed her ignition key… These were the sounds Rob had lived among – not silent fields punctuated by tractor-grind or bass-thuds from an inner-city flat, but a suburban in-between.’

Of course one should not confuse the words and sentiments of a character in a novel with those of the novel’s author. If I were to say this writer can get to fuck with his uck-thuck, you would know I was referring to the former and not the latter. But this contemporary take on suburbia, articulated by a major literary establishment figure via a (fictionalised) minor one, is almost generic in its dismissiveness – uck-thuck and bass-thuds aside, it could have been written at any time in the last 100 years.

Illustration by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

Compare that paragraph with the author’s note with which R. F. Delderfield introduces his 1958 novel The Dreaming Suburb, the setting of which is more or less identical to that sketched above.

‘Manor Park Avenue is not any particular Avenue, and neither are the Carvers, Friths, Frasers or Cleggs any particular families, residing in or around this area. They might be people of any south London suburb; indeed, their lives throughout the period 1919–40 might be the lives of any suburban dwellers, on the outskirts on any large city in Britain. These people are, for the most part, unsung, even though they represent the greater part of Britain’s population. The story of the country-dwellers, and the city sophisticates, has been told often enough; it is time somebody spoke of the suburbs, for therein, I have sometimes felt, lies the history of our race.’

Delderfield wrote these words sixty years ago, but how much has really changed since then? Between the tractor-grind of nature writing and the bass-thud of cutting-edge fiction, who has documented – without prejudice – the places most people live?

Julian Barnes’ latest novel, The Only Story, shares a suburban setting with his first, Metroland, published in 1980. Writing in the Guardian, Barnes explained why he was drawn back, somewhat ambivalently, to ‘leafy, neutral, unaggressive outer suburbia’:

‘To adapt Larkin: something, like nothing, happens anywhere … the twenty-ish protagonist [of The Only Story] itches to escape from what he judges a place of spiritual torpor. But it is also a place, as he discovers, where something as well as nothing may happen … I like this idea of a pale background wash, against which the rich colours of emotional action can show up more dramatically. Somewhat ruefully, I have to admit that – for me as a writer – suburbia is my kind of place.’

Barnes has been quick to inform the reader – to reassure her, perhaps – that ‘Metroland’ itself is ‘a kind of fake place. The name, an act of branding, was thought up by property developers and railway companies as the underground network expanded … So it was a non-place full of non-traditions, where – appropriately enough – the predominant architectural style was mock Tudor.’ I know they’re dreadful, he seems to be saying, but don’t worry, my interest in such places is strictly artistic. In this he is squarely in the literary tradition identified by Carey in The Intellectuals and the Masses; where he differs from E. M., T. S., H. G. et al. is his willingness to allow that ‘fake places’ need not breed fake people, and that inhabitants of Norbiton and Northwood can have access to the same rich inner lives as those of Hackney and Highgate. Mind you, it has been AN ENTIRE CENTURY.

In her remarkable 2005 novel Beyond Black, Hilary Mantel shares Barnes’ ambivalence to the sprawl of suburbia, in this case the M25 corridor and its choked slip roads, out-of-town carpet warehouses and ‘green fields of the Home Counties shredded by JCBs’; in fact, she goes further, identifying it as a zone of malevolence and unease. But where Barnes sees suburbia as ‘a pale background wash’, Mantel’s narrative exults in its eye-catching fixtures, fittings and food:

‘The Fig & Pheasant, under a more dignified name, had once been a coaching inn, and its frontage was still spattered with the exudates of a narrow, busy A-road … It offered the novelty of baked potatoes wrapped in foil with butter or sour cream, and a choice of cod or haddock in breadcrumbs, accompanied by salad or greyish and lukewarm peas … There was a Junior Menu of pasta shapes and fish bites, and tiny sausages like the finger that the witch tested for plumpness. There were dusty ruched curtains and vaguely William Morris wallpaper, washable but not proof against kids wiping their hands down it, just as they did at home. In the sports bar, where smoking was banned, the ceiling was falsely yellowed, to simulate years of tobacco poisoning; it had been done thirty years ago, and no one saw reason to interfere with it.’

Dame Hilary Mantel, 2017 (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the carvery aesthetic. But neither is it untrue. What I like about Beyond Black is Mantel’s willingness to accept and engage with this landscape, to inhabit it rather than stand back from it, which is partly why the novel is so unusual. In fact what I like about Beyond Black is that Mantel is writing about these places at all; few others have done. In this period, perhaps only Nicola Barker, in her novels set in the Isle of Sheppey, Canvey Island and Ashford in Kent – Wide Open (1998), Behindlings (2001) and Darkmans (2007), respectively – was doing something similar. As the narrator of Patrick Keiller’s contemporaneous film Robinson in Space (1997) says, quoting the geographer Doreen Massey, ‘… amid the Ridley Scott images of world cities, the writing about skyscraper fortresses, the Baudrillard visions of hyperspace … most people still live in places like Harlesden or West Brom.’

One of the UK’s most prolific visionaries when it came to hyperspace, world cities, skyscraper fortresses, etc., was of course the writer J. G. Ballard. Famously, Ballard lived in a semi-detached house in suburban Shepperton from 1960 until his death in 2009. ‘Actually, the suburbs are far more sinister places than most city dwellers imagine,’ he once said. ‘Their very blandness forces the imagination into new areas.’ Ballardians like to think their Brahmin sat cross-legged at the centre of what he once called the ‘gigantic boredom’ in much the same spirit of subversion that inspired his work; the ‘Seer of Shepperton’, as he became known. In reality, as he told the Sunday Express in 1987, ‘It was really only because of the children that I settled here. And that wasn’t boring; that was the biggest experience of my life … They were wonderfully happy years and I would gladly do it all over again.’ Like Rob the dead poet, even a Seer requires ‘more space, a garden, some peace and quiet’; and like Barnes, Ballard acknowledges that something, like nothing, happens anywhere. Which didn’t prevent him referring to the residents of suburbia as ‘dormant people … docile cattle’ in his novel Kingdom Come (2006), though presumably he didn’t do this to their faces – e.g. when borrowing a neighbour’s lawnmower.

I know that berating the literary community for its collective failure to appreciate the appeal of Harvester restaurants and mock-Tudor semis, along with all the people who live in mock-Tudor semis and enjoy Harvester restaurants, can make one sound like David Brent critiquing John Betjeman’s poem ‘Slough’ in an episode of The Office. But the thing about Brent is that he is in a British sitcom lineage that stretches from Hancock in Hancock’s Half Hour to Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles and even Alan Partridge: the suburban nonentity with ideas above his or her station. And the literary forefather of this comic archetype is, of course, Charles Pooter in The Diary of a Nobody. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.

So I would like to draw your attention to a handful of books that treat British suburbia, and the people who live there, fairly – or at least, not unfairly.

John Grindrod’s Outskirts (2017) undertakes a survey of the green belt from his perspective as someone who ‘grew up on the last road in London’ – i.e. the housing estate of New Addington. ‘I’ve always had a sense of having lived a life at the outskirts of both town and country,’ he writes, ‘on the dotted line between both and belonging to neither.’ Grindrod mixes personal reminiscence, social history and political comment to sketch both a place and a state of mind. Like Lynsey Hanley’s memoir Estates (2007), Outskirts is a postcard sent from a destination where few writers seem to wish you, or they, were – and is all the more valuable for that.

It was in Outskirts I first came across R. C. Sherriff’s novel Greengates. Sherriff is best known as the author of Journey’s End, the play based on his experiences as an officer during the First World War. But he was also a successful novelist; in books such as The Fortnight in September (1931), Greengates (1936) and The Hopkins Manuscript (1939) his subject was, in part, the life of the lower-middle classes in the still-new suburbs of south London. John Grindrod describes the plot of Greengates as ‘so slight as to be almost invisible: the tale of an elderly couple leaving inner London for a new house in a modern estate much like Croxley Green’. (Similarly, the plot of the earlier Fortnight in September may be summarised as: family of four quits Dulwich for two weeks’ holiday in Bognor Regis; comes home.) What distinguishes Sherriff’s account of these people is, unlike many other writers of the period, he likes them. All his work is suffused with a rare generosity of spirit.

As historian Juliet Gardner observes in her introduction to the Persephone Books reissue of Greengates, ‘Sherriff excelled as the acute miniaturist and profound observer of human foibles and frailties that readers will recall from The Fortnight in September … It established his reputation as a sharp and perceptive chronicler of lives that, despite their undramatic domestic banalities, often reveal greater truths than might initially appear.’ It should further be noted that Greengates was published by the left-leaning Victor Gollancz in 1936, the same year he issued George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying, another good novel about society, class and money but one with no generosity of spirit whatsoever.

(As an aside, Sherriff’s progress to literary pre-eminence must have had contemporaries like E. M. Forster throwing up their hands in horror. He was the son of an insurance clerk and was educated at a grammar school. After the war he joined the Sun Insurance Company in London, where he worked as an insurance adjuster for a decade, commuting in every day from Esher. After the success of Journey’s End in 1929, Sherriff did something remarkable: aged thirty-three, he resigned from his job, and from 1931 to 1934 he studied English Literature at New College, Oxford, where he subsequently (1937) founded a scholarship. In this period he also wrote screenplays, contributing to some of the most famous and successful films of the era: The Invisible Man (1933), Goodbye, Mr Chips (1939), Mrs Miniver (1942) and more. ‘He never married, and remained devoted to his mother, with whom he lived, latterly at his Esher house “Rosebriars’’, notes one biographer, demurely.)

Peter O’Toole as Arthur Chipping in musical film Goodbye, Mr Chips, 1968 (Photo by Larry Ellis/Daily Express/Getty Images)

R. F. Delderfield’s ‘Avenue’ saga (The Dreaming Suburb and The Avenue Goes to War, both 1958) will not be to all tastes and some readers may confuse the strong interweaving narrative with the soap operas they probably don’t watch because they don’t have TVs, or if they do have TVs, utilise them only to view Netflix and box sets. But these novels unite Delderfield’s strengths as a writer: good prose and vivid characterisation against a backdrop of historical events, plus empathy for ‘the Pirettas, the Cleggs, the Carvers, the Frasers and the Friths, respectively, of Numbers Two, Four, Twenty, Twenty-two, and Seventeen’. Both in this regard and as social documentary, they are practically unique; an R. C. Sherriff with the benefit of hindsight. As one critic noted on publication: ‘An acute, ironically endowed novelist has filled [the Avenue] with really fresh observation, genuine people; has worked with surprising range and made nobody, weak-headed spinster or girl adventuress, boy profiteer or jazz maniac, in the least a type.’

The Dreaming Suburb and The Avenue Goes to War deserve to be reappraised in the way books such as Norman Collins’ London Belongs to Me, Roland Camberton’s Scamp or Alexander Baron’s The Lowlife have been in recent years. There are two reasons why a rehabilitation of this sort probably won’t happen, however. The first is that, being texts of the suburbs rather than the city, they will never capture the critical imagination of Iain Sinclair. The second reason is that Delderfield is the epitome of the post-war ‘middlebrow’ novelist. His work is in the narrative-led, social realist and morbidly unfashionable tradition of writers such as J. B. Priestley, Dorothy Whipple or G. K. Chesterton (although it should be noted Whipple’s reputation has been restored in recent years by Persephone Books). Middlebrow, middle-class, middle England, the ‘suburban in-between’; the similarity of these labels isn’t a coincidence.

The concept of suburbia looms large in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams, whose hero Arthur Dent is the embodiment of the displaced suburban Englishman, condemned to roam the universe in search of a decent cup of tea. In Hitchhiker’s the Earth itself is a suburb, ‘situated far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy’ and ‘mostly harmless’, which is why no one cares very much when it is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, except of course all the people who liked living there. At the end of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), it is revealed that the reason Earth is/was so suburban is that many millennia in the past, the planet was accidentally populated by the passengers of a crashed spaceship, a ‘B Ark’, from the planet Golgafrincham.

Those in charge on Golgafrincham wished to rid themselves of all the useless middlemen cluttering up the place – i.e. their suburban middle class – so they invented a story that the planet was doomed to extinction and that the entire population was to be evacuated in three giant Ark ships: politicians, scientists and high achievers in the ‘A Ark’, and useful people who actually made things and did things in the ‘C Ark’. Into the ‘B Ark’, meanwhile, went all the account executives, insurance salesmen, public relations executives, telephone sanitisers and so on; and it was this ship that was dispatched first and crash-landed on Earth.

Adams gets a lot of good gags out of imagining the dystopia of a planet run by sub-committees of personnel officers, tired TV executives and hairdressers, but he also makes the point that there is, in fact, such a thing as society: having tricked their ‘useless’ bourgeoisie into leaving, Golgafrincham’s upper and working classes ‘stayed firmly at home and lived full, rich and happy lives until they were all suddenly wiped out by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone’.

A trio of novels from the 1980s and 90s is worth noting. The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), by Bromley’s Hanif Kureishi, is probably the most celebrated depiction of suburban life in this period, in fiction at any rate; it won the Whitbread First Novel award and was subsequently adapted for a BBC TV series, with a soundtrack by David Bowie (Bromley’s infamous old boy network in action). But the novel, great though it is, reprises the literary trope of defining suburbia as little more than ‘a leaving place’: it is London where things happen and people are truly alive. Shena Mackay’s Redhill Rococo (1986) is as distinctive and spiky as all her work; she never quite looks where you think she’s going to. On this occasion, her gaze falls on the Surrey dormitory town of Redhill in the early 1980s; the accelerating grottiness of the commuter belt under Thatcherism is captured here for posterity. But for me the best novel of this era is The Queen of the Tambourine (1991) by Jane Gardam, published a year after The Buddha of Suburbia and also winner of a Whitbread Award, though few seem to remember this now. It is a deeply melancholy and extremely funny book, one which is structured as a series of letters from a suburban housewife who may, or may not, be losing her mind, partly as a result of living in the place she does. It is also quite beautifully written:

‘Nothing has happened. Nothing but long grey days. I stand in the window a great deal. Nothing has happened since the razzle-dazzle of Oxford, the interesting anthropological behaviour of the Creative Writing Class, except rain. Rain and rain. Soft and soaking. Deeply seeping. Whispering night and day, all our lawns of Surrey green as Ireland and we in Rathbone Road as grey as ghosts. I stand watching the rain and contemplating the silence of God.’

Hanif Kureshi (Photo by rune hellestad/Corbis via Getty Images)

As stylists, Gardam and Mackay are unlikely to be mistaken for one another. In other ways, however, there are definite similarities in their outlooks. In fact, both can be likened to writers such as Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym: not just as elegant, witty chroniclers of ‘small lives’ (sic) played out in ‘undramatic’ (sic) domestic settings, but also as female authors who were critically marginalised in their own lifetimes for writing about such things and such people. Historically, ‘middlebrow’ writing – that loaded term again – has often been derided as excessively ‘feminine’; and, as we have seen, ‘middlebrow’ fiction is often considered the suburbia of the literary world: too neat, too conservative, to encompass passion or intellect. In this respect publishers such as The Dorothy Project and the aforementioned Persephone Books represent not just feminist enterprises but class-conscious ones too. This is why the latter company can happily publish R. C. Sherriff alongside Dorothy Whipple and a host of other neglected authors, the majority of whom are female.

(The story of the rediscovery of both Pym and her work in the 1970s is well known. As for Taylor, her biographer Nicola Beauman records the following incident that took place during judging for the 1971 Booker Prize, for which Taylor’s exquisite Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont had been shortlisted: ‘The chairman of the judges was John Gross and the largest part of the budget for the prize was spent on bringing Saul Bellow over from the States. From the start he behaved rather overbearingly (the other judges had to hear about his irritation that his room at the Ritz did not overlook the park) and he began the first meeting by saying about Mrs Palfrey, “I seem to hear the tinkle of teacups.”’)

One might have expected a new millennium, and a different generation of British writers with a different experience of the suburbs, to have produced some significant new voices on the subject. But in 2009, the author and critic Stuart Evers wrote a blog post for the Guardian in which he expressed bafflement at suburbia’s continuing absence from British fiction: ‘When English literary novels do venture outside the greater London confines … where they rarely seem to alight is at the well-tended hedges of suburbia; a situation I find both strange and surprising. Why are British novelists so reluctant to take it on?’

In his post, Evers namechecks Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother (2006) and Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency (2008), alongside Gwendoline Riley’s work and also Charles Chadwick’s It’s All Right Now (2005), to which I would add Beyond Black, Barker’s Thames Gateway trilogy and The Rotters’ Club (2001) by Jonathan Coe. However, if it’s the voice of the millennial suburban teenager you’re after, look no further than Niven Govinden’s terrific Graffiti My Soul (2006) and its narrator Veerapen Prendrapen, ‘the only kosher Tamil in Surrey’. Veerapen and his teenage mates get into fights, party, hang around the precinct on their bikes and, crucially, don’t escape to London: ‘I’m a good boy really, but I won’t lie about it; I like the street violence around here. It’s probably one of the reasons I’ll never move out of Surrey.’

But for me, the greatest novel of the suburbs, one which brings together many of the strands I have been talking about in this essay, is The Death of Reginald Perrin (1975) by David Nobbs (subsequently republished as The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin): ‘The train was eleven minutes late, due to signal failure at Vauxhall. Reggie dragged his reluctant legs along Station Road, up the snicket, up Wordsworth Drive, turned right into Tennyson Avenue, then left into Coleridge Close. It was quiet on the Poets’ Estate. The white gates barred all vulgar and irrelevant traffic. The air smelt of hot roads. Reggie marches his battle-weary body up the garden path, roses to left of him, roses to right of him, shining white house in front of him. House martins were feeding their first brood under the eaves…’

Pleasingly The Death of Reginald Perrin was published by Victor Gollancz Ltd, the same company responsible for Greengates and Keep the Aspidistra Flying. As a novelist, Nobbs shares Sherriff’s generosity of spirit but he also has Mantel’s eye for suburban detail, accepting it for what it is with the sharpest of wits. The novel is the story of one commuter’s nervous breakdown and its effect on his wife, his family and his colleagues at work. Like Gardam’s The Queen of the Tambourine it is both surprisingly bleak and extremely funny – when Nobbs adapted it for the TV series starring Leonard Rossiter, he largely ditched the former element whilst retaining the latter in full, viewing them, correctly, as two different entities with different aims.

In the novel, Nobbs treats his suburban characters not as Ballard’s ‘dormant people’ or ‘docile cattle’ – though famously Reggie does see his mother-in-law as a hippopotamus – but as human beings whose lives are as rich and sad and hilarious as anyone else’s; the world Nobbs describes in the novel may have changed dramatically over the last forty years but human nature has not. The prose stands comparison with any of his literary contemporaries: he was a wonderful writer. And, predictably enough, when Nobbs died in 2015, his career as a novelist was largely overlooked by the book world, notable exceptions being Jonathan Coe, Joanne Harris and Irvine Welsh. He was just too funny, and he wrote about suburbia, the place most people live.

Meanwhile the wait for new voices from the suburbs goes on. I would like to think that right now, a young writer from Carshalton or Bexleyheath or Hornchurch or Potters Bar or Harmondsworth or Feltham or Oxshott is working on the first novel ever to be set in any of these places. There are so many untold stories out there, so many undocumented lives in the avenues and new estates, so much experience waiting to be tapped and so many people who have never seen themselves in the mirror of fiction.

Isn’t it about time they had their turn?

If you have recommendations of British fiction set in suburbia and written this century, Andy Miller would love to hear them. Please tweet  or contact him on his website.