As a portrait of a respectable middle-class girl, one who wants, in her own words, ‘to do some good in the world’ – Bishop’s daughter Lucy Purefoy is an archetype of naivety. Mortimer is in his element when describing the twee world of Lucy and that of her ultra-trendy father, Bishop Robert.
From the plots of Shakespeare through to The Prince and Pauper role reversal has always been fertile ground for comedy. When Lucy, in her new role of prison mentor, is teamed up with ex-con Terry Keegan, Mortimer mercilessly exploits a tried and trusted formula.
A plot which involves good girl going bad and bad guy going good certainly allows the author plenty of scope to explore the unworldliness of the Liberal. Bishops, social workers, prison reformers, lawyers – the whole gamut of professional bleeding hearts are (gently) mocked within these pages.
Alternating the narrative back and forth between Lucy and Terry is an ingenious device that allows the reader to enjoy two very different perspectives on the same events. Unsurprisingly Lucy’s interpretations often differ from those of her lover and vice versa.
Throw in a pithy portrayal of a feminised criminal justice system in the shape of prison reform group SCRAP (Social Carers, Reformers And Praeceptors) and it’s laughs all the way in this enjoyable romp.
Introduced by Terry to cons such as the grotesque Chippy McGrath, soon Lucy is moving in a world of Dickensian scoundrels and villains. It’s a world that fascinates the prim Miss Purefoy. And so nice girl falls for bad boy. Don't they always?
Lucy Purefoy wouldn’t be the first nor indeed the last middle-class girl to be seduced by an alien world, one that offers the chance to rebel against her father’s respectable world of sermons and cucumber sandwiches.
Juxtaposing Lucy’s burgeoning appetite against Terry’s reformed attitude to crime is a masterstroke. The turnaround that concludes the novel is deftly handled. And thus the novel comes full circle. As a comment on law and order, Mr Mortimer has certainly managed to concoct a story which is every bit as wry as it is smart.
Although in some ways Quite Honestly is a light and fluffy read, an airport book, this in no way detracts from a rather ingenuous and always enjoyable work of fiction. Certainly at just a whisker over 200 pages (largish print) it’s a pretty quick read.
While the usual startling similes that characterise weightier works such as the Rapstone Chronicle are absent, the chatty first-person narrative style is eminently suitable to the novel’s design and thus more than compensates. It’s fair to say Quite Honestly is not a literary novel. It was never supposed to be.
In the final analysis Quite Honestly is what it is: a witty tale that cleverly satirises our touchy-feely society. Some readers will laugh, others will shake their heads, while one or two of a touchy-feely disposition might even wince every so often.