It is Midsummer’s Day 2016, the day of the Brexit referendum, when Bill, much given to all-consuming enthusiasms, finds ominous patterns on his cellar floor. Up and down the land, the result is viewed as either triumph or catastrophe, dividing close families and shattering long relationships. Not so the two old sparring partners, Bill and Pete, whose friendship ‘a bouillabaisse of habit, shared experience, prejudice, insight, self-delusion, envy, competitiveness and general wear and tear,’ appears robust enough to survive any difference of opinion. But can it survive secret betrayal?
#LoveUnderLockdown @GracePublicity #MichaelEstorick
Bill and Pete have been best friends since they were ten. Now they’re retired, in their sixties, and meet for lunch every Tuesday, for badinage about golf, politics, their stagnant love lives, their mutual friend Guy who lives in a tower in Gascony, but mainly Bill’s fractious relationship with his son Ivan.
The book is filled with Bill’s humorous tirades against the younger generations. Ivan is forever moving in and out of his father’s house and dismisses everything his father Bill says. But while Brexit tears Bill and Ivan apart, Coronavirus and lockdown thrusts them together, forcing them to rebuild their bond.
Love Under Lockdown echoes Turgenev’s masterpiece Fathers and Sons and is a fascinating commentary on the divide between the generations. Spanning the four years from the Brexit Referendum to the end of the first lockdown, we watch these characters navigate their way through the chaos and uncertainty and discover what really matters. They fall out, fall in love, and despite their many differences, they still have each other. And to escape, Bill always has the golf club.
Love Under Lockdown is a story of friendship and love, which will have you missing the characters long after you’ve closed the book.
‘Bill and Pete have been best friends since they were ten. Now they’re retired, in their sixties, and meet for lunch every Tuesday, for badinage about golf, politics, their stagnant love lives, their mutual friend Guy who lives in a tower in Gascony, but mainly Bill’s fractious relationship with his son Ivan.‘
I was having lunch in the staff restaurant the other day and suddenly I laughed out loud. I apologised to my colleague and explained about the passage I was reading at that moment. I know so many ‘Bills’ I told her. I can hear their voices in his words. So do I, she said. And we both laughed.
I’m not sure I know any ‘Petes’ though, but probably a number of people who make up one ‘Pete’ and I definitely don’t know any ‘Guys’. At least no-one with a grey ponytail who lives in a tower in Gascony, or anywhere else for that matter. I know a few ‘Ivans’ though and our discussions (or arguments) about each other’s generations would be similar. You lot had it so easy. Not as easy as you etc. Except in my family we all voted to remain in the EU so that’s one thing less to disagree on.
This book really made me laugh. In theory Bill should be everything I hate but he does make me giggle. I would quote a few of his remarks but my review would probably get taken down for being too un-PC.
The story here is really about two sixty-something men (plus artist Guy from time to time) who have known each other all their lives. Things have changed over the years for all of them, but even their different politics, the death of Bill’s wife Carol and budding romances can’t separate them. The main trouble for Bill is that he and son Ivan clash over everything, yet Pete and Ivan get along fine. I guess the closeness of father and son just fan the flames, while Ivan and Pete can remain more neutral.
As someone from the same generation as Bill and Pete, the book really resonated with me. I have had many an argument over Brexit with colleagues at work (often much younger than me) – one of whom is very pro-leave and teases me constantly with the phrase ‘don’t barrage the Farage’ as he knows how much I despise the horrid man. Amazon will no doubt remove that bit as well.
To sum up, a great read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Many thanks to Grace Pilkington Publicity for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.
About the Author
Michael Estorick was born in London in 1951. He was educated at Magdalene College, Cambridge before going on to study at the City and Guilds of London Art School. He has been the Chairman of Trustees for the Estorick Collection since 1995. Estorick is the author of seven novels and has written for publications including The Independent and The Tablet. He is the chairman of the Estorick Collection. Love Under Lockdown is the sequel to About Time, which the Jewish Chronicle described as ‘well-observed, humane and very funny.’ Michael lives in London.
Q & A
What inspired you to write about the period from Brexit to Lockdown?
The period 2016-2020 seems to have a distinct shape. As far as my characters are concerned, I could see how a relationship which was falling apart (Brexiter father/Remainer son) might be surprisingly transformed by outside events (the Covid pandemic). Brexit and the pandemic have revealed huge institutional problems within our society as well as gaps in understanding and sympathy between the generations and regions. Most of the values and beliefs with which I grew up have been trashed. The Tory win in 2019 and the collapse of the Labour party have shown how traditional loyalties have been undermined by unstoppable economic and social changes. The growing influence of the internet encourages propaganda and ignorance: knowledge is no longer painstakingly acquired through understanding and experience but instantaneously at the press of a button. One fact is now no better or worse than another. Opinion matters more than information. The uninformed and ignorant tolerate no disagreement without resorting to abuse and even violence.
The pandemic has revealed, as shared historical experiences inevitably do, the adaptability of some people and the selfishness of others, the unreliability of ‘experts’ and the failure of public institutions to cope with crises they should have prepared for: short-termism, the absence of long-term thinking and policy, the general absence of any consensus over what kind of society we want to live in.
Every viewpoint, however cranky, is evidently regarded as equally valid; respect or understanding of tradition and history has been discarded by people for whom ignorance is only an encouragement to self-expression; tiny minorities act as if they are in the majority and threaten anyone who disagrees with them. The pandemic has been the nearest thing to a world war in my lifetime, and in that sense has been utterly compelling. My experience is as valid as anyone else’s, even if my personal circumstances are un-typical: as a privileged white male, I evidently no longer
count, despite white males being in the majority (majorities no longer count either), particularly as I have no particular axe to grind. Some people think they are especially entitled and that society has a duty to protect and provide for them, without their owing anything in return; an absurd expectation which leads governments to make impossible promises, and inhibits individuals from doing things for themselves; risk, danger and initiative are no longer considered an essential part of life – indeed a condition of life itself – as if the comfortable society we live in today is not the hard-won product of a long and violent historical evolution, but has been the natural condition of man down the ages; and the absurd belief some people appear to hold that those alive today are somehow more evolved than their forerunners.
From a previous novel About Time, published two year ago, I had a cast of ready-made characters in their 60’s, living in London, who I wanted to understand better as they moved towards the end of life, and found themselves thrust into this new and unfamiliar world where they discover they are considered dispensable. The book ends during the first lockdown and a subsequent novel, provisionally titled No Way Back, will show how public events further constrain the characters, who are unable to follow up on decisions like moving house and commemorating rites of passage. I don’t know what will happen next in the book (about one third written), except than one important character will die, and his death will have profound consequences, not least in giving new life to another (not through the use of his organs, I should add!). As I am invariably the last to know what my characters are up to, I much look forward to discovering how it all turns out, both in my novel and, perhaps even more importantly, in the world outside my pages.
Have either of the two events affected you personally? Did you fall out with friends/family as a result of Brexit?
No serious fallings out over Brexit though plenty of arguments after the referendum with people who refused to accept the result (that in itself spoke volumes). I don’t think Remainers, who were too complacent to ever make a proper case for staying in the EU, understand why anyone would ever vote against his apparent economic self-interest. This includes me, as I have a house in France which I won’t be as free to visit as before.
Leavers were anything but triumphalist, and although the result was only ‘advisory’, Cameron felt obliged to accept it and hand over power, conveniently stepping out of the firing line and leaving it to others to clean up, while he soon made millions out of the mess. The sight of so many ex-politicians and Prime Ministers insisting we must vote again was repellent. I discovered leave voters where I least expected to.
As in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, they had sensibly preferred to keep shtum until after the event, when they would be free to reveal their true colours, often to others’ shock and disgust.
How much research did you have to do and do you consider yourself to be very politically aware?
I do little specific research other than to make sure I get dates and names and facts correct. I did ask a friend of mine to give me detailed information about a cruise he had taken early in 2020, which I stuck to closely in the novel (without feeling remotely constrained by the facts).
I read the press and listen to the news and take an interest in what is going on, but I remain very naïve politically, expecting politicians to do what they say, to set an example and behave decently. Instead, they generally behave worse than the average person. I shouldn’t be surprised: if you pay peanuts you get monkeys, another unfortunate Cameron legacy. Courting popularity is dangerous among people who sometimes need to make unpopular decisions, but is essential in anyone making claims to leadership.
Are your characters based on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Totally from my imagination, and a constant surprise to me, though inevitably they have bits of me in them and also of my friends. I don’t think there is anything specifically autobiographical other than one of my characters obsession with golf, and my belief that the most productive thing one can do in life is to get out of one’s own way.
Readers who know me nevertheless see me in most of my characters, assume my books are autobiographical, and even claim to hear my voice in my characters. I’m not sure whether to feel flattered by any of this. I never plan my novels and have no idea what will happen in them. If I knew, I wouldn’t bother to write them, as the pleasure and satisfaction comes from finding out unexpected things. I am not sure if my novels answer specific questions, but there always is some question, dilemma or situation which I am wanting to explore and understand through writing about it.
What is your typical day as a writer? Has Covid had an impact on this?
My time has always been my own, but without Covid I wouldn’t have written Love Under Lockdown. It provided a subject and context and above all an experience which I could observe as it was happening; for once I was an active part of history and not just an ‘independent’ observer. My experience may not have been typical, if such a thing exists, and I was certainly in a happier position than most to enjoy the experience. Beyond that, I have no routine and write when I want to, and stop when I think I’ve done enough. I write very quickly, but because I have so little knowledge of my characters, editing a finished text is usually deeply frustrating, as I find myself asking questions about them which I hadn’t at the time of writing, and also tend to over edit, and to look for consistency where it may not exist.
How important is setting in your books?
Good question. I have written a number of novels factually based on my family. I have also written one novel set during the Falklands war (What are Friends For, 1990), but I use very little physical description in my writing, either of places or people. Plot, character, story, and the relationships between people are developed primarily through dialogue. I’ve written one original film script set against the Iraq War (called Friendly Fire, which originated in a specific historical incident) which I am proud of but it never got anywhere, partly through laziness (once something is finished I lose interest in it), no doubt mainly because it wasn’t sufficiently focused or visual: too much talk and not enough action, and also too many characters. And by the time it was finished probably out of date, as other wars had broken out in the meantime!
Do you listen to music while you write? Or do you prefer total silence?
I used to sometimes listen to music when working but no longer do so. (I listen to a great deal of music at other times). Whatever is going on in my head is sufficiently noisy, and music only distracts me. I used to write in crowded places like bars, where I was in my own bubble, but have now stopped and work pretty exclusively at home. I write whenever I want to and for as long as I like and have no specific routine. I know that if I think of something as I’m going to sleep I MUST write it down or I’ll forget it, though my favourite scene in Friendly Fire was something I had dreamed and, very unusually, remembered in full when I woke up. I thought it was great and then as the day went on not so great but at the end of the day I wrote it down and I immodestly thought it was wonderful, and still do. Alas, it’s the only time that’s happened to me. Now if I wake at 5 am with an idea I go to work. To me, writing is the least lonely activity, and even when not writing I often hear my characters chatting away. All I need to get going is a sentence or an idea, and then I am off. Or, rather, they are!
What sort of books did you read as a child and what is your favourite book ever (as an adult or child)?
I can’t remember what I read as a child apart from the comic Hotspur, Treasure Island and a Tale of Two Cities. And my sister’s girly comics about ballet dancers which she didn’t want me to have (I dislike ballet almost as much as I do my sister!). My favourite book, in as much as it is the one I read (or dip into) most often, is a book of essays called Golfer at Large by Charles Price. I am not sure what rereading tells me, other than that either I or the book has changed, and for that not to happen is very significant. I have loved Evelyn Waugh but on re-reading they often seem quite different books. I admired Anthony Powell, whose twelve volume Music of Time I’ve read three times, but now think it complete rubbish. I find Proust unreadable and can’t get past page 100 of War and Peace. I always enjoyed Chekhov’s stories. Also those of Mavis Gallant and J Maclaren Ross. I most of all admire Maurice Gee, a 90 year old Kiwi novelist, to whom my latest novel is dedicated and think Going West, which I recently reread for the second time, as good a novel as any, though I would have written one scene differently and had the cheek to tell him so!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Very hard to answer. Setting up the Estorick Collection, a family collection of 20th century Italian art given to the nation by my father, in Canonbury Square. The satisfaction in seeing how much the public love the place is huge and outweighs any feelings of resentment I might have at not having the paintings all to myself! I like setting things up but not running them. The Collection has been open for almost 25 years and will have its work cut out fighting cancel culture. Trying to keep an open, independent mind; to be generous and not judgemental in the way I was when I was young and arrogant.
To hopefully have been a better father than my own was to me.