Sam is a late twenties Londoner. He has a horrible break up situation, a hot lady mate, a dysfunctional family, an enviable furniture collection and an enormous boil near his balls.
Simon Pont’s debut novel tells the story of Samuel Grant, an advertising executive working and living in London during the first serious wave of dotcom money making. Samuel is glamorous and self loathing in turns, sometimes coming across as a post millennial Pepys, or Adrian Mole with a Conran Shop habit.
Remember To Breathe might be a nineties period piece, but it captures the current mood of quarter life crisis that seems to be strangling us all. Initially, Sam seems like another 20th century spendy label fiend, like Steven Stelfox, or Patrick Bateman, but he’s an unhappy shopper - one of the last people to believe in retail therapy despite the overwhelming evidence that fixes nothing. On paper, Sam might have a great job, flat and social life, but he’s stymied by the brutality of having his heart broken - and Pont’s narrative pace alternates between the breakneck giddiness pace of a nihilistic night out, and the sad, slow burn of healing and waiting.
In places, the laddy, Loaded dialogue is a little lacking - Sam’s experiences are so well drawn and detailed that his friends’ tits/sport/money dialogue could have been filched from a Striker cartoon speech bubble. But it’s made up for by the novel’s powerful sense of place - there are certain parts of London that are described so vividly, I can smell them - and the social history angle, which evokes the recent past in a way that is always accurate and interesting without veering towards the sentimental.
But the main strength of Remember To Breathe is its honesty about men, women and how they hurt each other. It’s frank about the way that feminism and femininity has been politicised and masculinity marginalised as a series of trends. And Sam’s advertising role gives Pont the opportunity to reflect on how lives are ruined by sloganeering - Having It All is always going to clash with Happy Ever After. It holds its own as a Generation Y coming of age title, and reminds us that no-one is immune from being derailed by extreme emotion, no matter how grown up you think you are.
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