Books

How really to annoy the neighbours: build a basement swimming-pool

Rachel Johnson’s latest novel delves deep into the lives of Notting Hill’s super-rich. What Fresh Hell will it bring?

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

Fresh Hell Rachel Johnson

Penguin, pp.287, £7.99, ISBN: 9780241004128

This book has brought out my inner Miliband. A punitive mansion tax on all properties with garden squares in Notting Hill? Hell, yes! Friends, I’d go further: flight taxes on trips to Mustique; VAT at 27.5 per cent on Stella McCartney running shoes, Daylesford groceries, Yogalates classes, Vita Coco coconut water, almond milk and chia seeds. All prep schools which attract paparazzi shooting supermodels dropping off their children to be abolished, and little Fox and Memphis sent to the nearest inner-city comp not yet turned into an academy. As for iceberg basements: a direct payment of £1.5 million to the treasury for one storey, £2.5 million for two, £4.15 million for three. Call it the Tax Titannica.

Fresh Hell, the third of Rachel Johnson’s Notting Hill novels, returns to Lonsdale Gardens, W11, where double-aspect white stucco houses overlook a communal garden. Those who live there are UHNW (Ultra High Net Worth) individuals with private jets and the odd VHNW (Very High Net Worth) family making do with flying first class. They are as ghastly a lot as you could find.


The plot turns on the mania for iceberg basements. In a series that puns happily on Hell, it is fitting that the Lonsdale residents should want to descend into London’s clay to dig underground swimming pools, private cinemas and sunless barracks for their Filipina servants. Neighbours have no desire to have their morning Mindfulness Meditations disturbed by lorries and Slavic builders and there are all sorts of legal and romantic shenanigans involved in Stopping The Dig (the witless Notting Hill mummies haven’t noticed the unfortunate acronym.)

Johnson lives in W11 and you do wonder if she is on speakers with any of her neighbours. Is she still invited to NHKS (Notting Hill Kitchen Suppers)? There, she writes,

You have Rich People’s Conversation, which always boils down to ‘the best thing I ever bought’. Followed by ‘what I spent my money on next’.

The most perceptive character is the blogging teenage daughter of Ralph and Mimi (No Net Worth individuals living in an ex-council maisonette on the square) who writes: ‘I never get it when women think they’re clever just because they’ve chosen something to buy, as if it’s some sort of creative act.’ Yes!

Johnson slowly, devilishly roasts her characters in the flames of a hundred Diptyque scented candles. Notting Hill’s UHNWs make for good gawping, but you wouldn’t want to sit next to one at a kitchen supper.

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