The title of this amusing but ultimately serious book is a reference to the London neighborhood most Americans will remember from the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts film which is referred to locally as “That Film” (just as Macbeth is always called “The Scottish Play” by those connected to the theatre). One of the characters in the book notes that the last scene of the film, with the pregnant Julia and Hugh on a bench, obviously now homeowners, in the communal garden whose wall they had scaled earlier, was, for her, the obvious beginning of narrative tension not the happy ever after.
The story is told in alternating chapters by two of the women whose tiny back gardens open (via a locked gate to which each household has one key) onto the five acre common garden. Clare (a childless and worrying-about-it garden designer, whose husband Gideon is a successful eco-architect) represents the new moneyed people who have made house values in the neighborhood escalate 3000% in twelve years and Mimi (the mother of three, a dilatory work-at-home freelance journalist whose husband Ralph writes a subscription-only monthly on the oil and gas industry) who feels completely embedded in the neighborhood. They inherited their house from Ralph’s father who bought it when the neighborhood was down-at-heels and by Notting Hill standards they are poor as they never go skiing, lack a second house in the country and struggle to pay the school fees. The other neighbors fall into two groups, the haves. . . and the have yachts, the superstars of the financial corporate and entrepreneurial worlds whose wives are kept busy being Notting Hill uber-mummies, superintending their children’s diet and activities, relentless shopping and decorating consultation with the Donna the guru of feng shui who does everything from window boxes to life advice.
The arrival on the garden of the newly divorced transatlantic billionaire Si Kasparian sets off the “marriage-wrecking-ball crash of lust…” in Mimi, but the neighborhood really goes into action when one couple demolishes their garage and begins an elaborate rebuilding which raises dark suspicions in Clare. The story is hilariously filled with insights into life among the “Yummy Mummies” of modern London where “Circle Time” at Ponsonby Prep can lead to the details of Celebrity Mummy’s changing relationship innocently revealed to the world and all the consequences of intra neighborhood adultery fold into one-upping the neighbors with new home perks like retractable roofs and children who are either “gifted “ or “special needs”. The author is a well known London journalist and resident of the neighborhood whose far more famous brother is Boris Johnson, the Tory MP and ex-editor of The Spectator who has just shocked the political world by being elected Lord Mayor of London. The book is complete with “Notting Hill for Beginners” a guide to the shops, spas and service purveyors who support the lifestyle of London’s most famous postcode. — Molly Spore-Alhadef