The Alarming Palsy of James Orr by Tom Lee

Tom Lee shows plenty of skill in his debut novel, but fails to elevate the book beyond other cleanly told tales of middle-class life

Book Review by Ross McIndoe | 03 Nov 2017
  • The Alarming Palsy of James Orr
Book title: The Alarming Palsy of James Orr
Author: Tom Lee

James Orr’s life is a piece of picture-perfect middle-class paradise. He works a respectable job in the city, then returns home to his loving wife and their two adorable children, safe and snug in their idyllic home in the middle of a woodland-bordered private estate. He is, by all accounts, a respected and respectable member of his home, workplace and local community. However, when a form of palsy leaves the left side of his face limp and immobilised, it acts as the slight surface crack that reveals the instability of his entire world.

Suburbia has often been used as the setting for examinations of modern life’s artificiality – while the city houses the grime and fire of the post-industrial age, the suburbs show it in uncannily cleaned-up form, the darkness hidden beneath a thin veneer of civility. Coming off the back of his acclaimed Greenfly collection, Tom Lee continues this tradition in a lean, easily digestible novel. He writes with the same kind of technical acumen and easy style that made Booker darlings of Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes but also with the same bloodless quality.

His debut novel is an easy read and perfectly enjoyable but the slight Kafka-esque turn which sets it in motion fails to elevate it above another cleanly told tale of white male middle-class life. 

Out 2 Nov, published by Granta Books, RRP £12.99