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Geoff Nicholson: Female Ruins

Geoff Nicholson is having a go at all the foibles and obsessions of late twentieth/early twenty first century man/woman. He’s done cars, food, tourism, cinema, gardening, department stores and, of course, sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. In this one he does architecture and living space and, of course, sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. Kelly Howell is a taxi driver in a village in Sussex. She is also the daughter of the most famous architect never to design a house, Christopher Howell, an iconoclastic architect/writer (we get several samples of his writing in the book, including his ideas on the relationship between form and function in building). Ironically and symbolically, Howell père was killed by a giant hand falling on top of him. Kelly, as a good Nicholson heroine, has an obsession with her father and his reputation, despite having had to foist off students, journalists, researchers, etc. eager to find out about her late father.

Enter Jack Dexter. Dexter is an American, visiting the Suffolk village of Carsham, where Kelly lives and works. He engages her services to take her round Suffolk, claiming a recent divorce and an injured leg. She takes him to the obvious places, starting with Southwold and Aldeburgh. They gradually warm to each other, though she seems to remain irritated with him, and end up in bed. But, of course, something has to happen and it does. He reveals that, contrary to what she had thought, he does know of her father (and her) and came with the express purpose of meeting her. Her anger is soon tempered, when she finds out that his father knew her father and that her father actually did design a house for his father, which is still extant. They head off to California to see it. In good Nicholson fashion, there is a cataclysmic climax and, as the title so wittily explains, there are ruins everywhere.

Nicholson is, of course, concerned with living space and how we relate to it and how it affects us, from geodesic domes to the ruins of the title, both old ones and new ones. Kelly has a strange converted chapel as a home (which was featured in a magazine) which clearly expresses her wayward personality as the house her father designed in California may well have expressed his. But Nicholson has an apocalyptic vision and, despite the final line, She didn’t feel remotely ruined, this is one more of his guides on our road to ruin.

Publishing history

First published 1999 by Victor Gollancz