22 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 53

A bas la difference!

Zenga Longmore

DEAD SEXY by Kathy Lette Simon & Schuster,114.99, pp. 341, ISBN 074324804X K. athy Lette's latest novel begins with a zany one-liner: 'How can we win the sex war when we keep fraternising with the enemy?' The next sentence is a zany oneliner: 'God, apparently as a prank, devised two sexes and called them opposite.' The third is also a zany one-liner, and the fourth and the fifth. Aaagh! Wacky oneliners choke the book, rendering the reader gasping for gravity. They elbow aside both plot and characterisation, which is just as well, because the plot is profoundly absurd and the characters are cliched cartoon cut-outs.

Shelly, a schoolteacher, suddenly finds she is about to marry a total stranger, handsome American Kit, 'butter-blond with a chiselled physique'. She had no idea that her pupils had put her name down for a reality television show, Desperate and Dateless. The prize is a wedding in Gretna Green. Shelly blithely gets married, has oral sex and flies off to the Frenchspeaking island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean for the honeymoon, camera crew in tow. She's 'riding higher than the polyester underpants beneath her new Versace skirt'.

Once they get to Reunion, Kit refuses to consummate the marriage. This is upsetting for Shelly who masturbates so much she needs 'terry towelling sweatbands on her wrists'. The newly-weds while away the pages exchanging ceaseless quips which Kathy's devotees describe as a 'savagely funny indictment on the sex war'. Judge for yourself:

'All you gals are ponderin' is why your idiot boyfriend won't put the toilet roll on with the serrated bit facin' out.'

'Ha! Men don't ever put the toilet roll on! A man's idea of changing a toilet roll is to put it on the back of the cistern.'

Although the television company has promised the couple £100,000 each, plus designer clothes and a free holiday, they didn't think of researching into their backgrounds — which is handy for Kit because he has a secret.

What is his secret? The hypothetical reader who has managed to stay awake will discover Kit has a golden-headed, epigram-spouting daughter hiding in his honeymoon suite whom he has smuggled out of the country to escape from her 'heartless, ruthless bitch' of a mother. The best way he can secretly abduct the child is to do so on a reality television show which will be watched by millions of people. I told you the plot was silly. And it gets sillier. Kit and his daughter are kidnapped by crazed terrorists. The bitchmother mysteriously turns up and, after making lots of vapid remarks on the differences between men and women, pays the rebels to kill chiselled Kit. Shelly rescues everyone by performing James Bond-style stunts. In between there are cyclones, bombs, erupting volcanoes and unconvincing sex.

But no one takes anything to heart. Every ridiculous catastrophe serves as a fresh excuse for a tediously contrived wisecrack. 'Guns are like men,' drones an interchangeable character to a gun-totin' rebel leader. 'Keep one around for long enough and eventually you are going to want to shoot it.'

There is no tension, no change of tone: just endless 'gender difference' jokes, and if Kathy Lette's brand of humour begins to pall. then God help you — especially if you are being forced to review this frightful tosh.