“I’ve looked down on life from a high mountain, Peter, and do you know what I saw? We’re all just doing nothing, that’s what!”
In the middle of the 19th century, the great French writer, Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), set out to write a fictional compendium of every aspect of humankind. An Evening at the Beach is a 21st century attempt to repeat the exercise “in 30 minutes”, “for beginners”, “for Dummies”, or whatever the most modern phrase is. In brief, it is a lot shorter.
Laid bare are humankind’s most noble engagements with banality (Dog Hostelling, The Wedding Cake), its grapples with transcendence (The Utter Tat Milk Jug, Mrs Chalford), its genocidal manias (English Rifles), its self-destructive pathos (An Evening at the Beach), its sometimes futile struggles of conscience (Because You’re Worth It, Not From the Embassy), its mad saintliness (The Ballad of Sally L Harvey & Martin S Taylor), some of which bursts out in a single evening (The Queen of the Fens), its wrong-turns, its redemptions, its inexplicable passion for shopping. An Evening at the Beach is, in intention, a bid to show what God might make of us from space. Somewhere along the way, it is the story of everyone.