TONY PARSONS'S novel Man and Boy is one of the most successful books of recent years. It has sold over a million copies, been translated into 30 languages and won many awards. His latest book, One For My Baby, is destined to be equally popular. I think they are both grossly overrated and push a false, very conservative view of the world.
Having succeeded with his first book, Parsons did not take many chances with the follow-up. Man and Boy is centred on Highbury Corner in north London, and features women whose most attractive features are their 'wide-set eyes'. For comic effect it has a character whose supposedly hilarious weakness is to use phrases that have gone out of fashion.
Much of the action in One For My Baby takes place around Highbury Corner. It has a woman with the attractive feature of 'eyes too far apart', and for comic effect it has a character whose supposedly hilarious weakness is to use common phrases slightly incorrectly.
But their biggest similarity is their relentless message that many things were better in the past. Parsons does not mean primarily a less market-driven society or a more radical Labour Party. Instead he rams home the virtues, as he sees it, of lasting marriage and the 'really solid families' of the previous generation.
He harks back to a Britain where, he says, people worked hard, stayed together and got on with their mundanely heroic lives without complaining. But, as Parsons's own parents pointed out, it wasn't really like that. For many people, especially women, the 'happy family' was a prison. It was a place where hope was crushed and violence was often only just below the surface.
In matters of relationships, sex and bringing up children, it is wholly good that today people have more choice, and that women have more freedom. There are few things more harmful to children than to live with two parents who hate each other but stay together because of pressure from society.
It is because he wants to resurrect a vision of an idealised family life which never existed that Parsons's books are often just mawkish sentimentality, a cover for reactionary views. Parsons's false vision of the past comes with other unpleasant baggage. In swallowing the conservative myths about the family he also swallows other myths. He once wrote that the working class, which had been the salt of the earth, had now turned into the scum of the earth
And then there is racism. Parsons's regular Mirror column often has brilliantly argued denunciations of racism and jingoism. But after the murder of headteacher Philip Lawrence by a young man from the Philippines, Parsons wrote, 'Learco Chindamo would never have been brought here if we were not seen as such a soft touch. We are right to be proud of our welfare state. But it should exist for the genuinely needy and not for foreign leeches.'
Recently in the Mirror he wrote, 'Crime is getting out of control. Images of illegal immigrants massing in northern France are unnerving to the ordinary Briton who wonders how the country will cope when we can't even look after our own people-but you are not allowed to mention it for fear of being branded a racist.'
Parsons is bitterly critical of New Labour. But when he writes about the family and refugees I can hear the bigoted voice of David Blunkett and his ilk.