There is so much to savour in this historical fiction novel, set in the London of the late 1940s and early 50s. A broken city in many ways, the buildings destroyed by the Blitz have left their scars. It is a troubled city, as rationing and shortages still limit options and leave basic foods being dubiously obtained. The major problem for the main characters though is fundamental. They have arrived in Britain on the Windrush, responding to the call for workers. Sadly these men had found little welcome from those who were suspicious of those so obviously different in race. Lawrie Matthews is a young man who has travelled in hope, but discovered that he must soon endure blatant discrimination and even violence as he tries to find work and a new life. Evie is a young woman who has grown up being different from everyone else in her part of London, and has a secret. Coping with those around them is a difficult, nearly impossible task, especially when Lawrie makes a terrible discovery. As secrets and lies emerge, threats and violence are promised, and the police in the person of one nasty officer becomes a constant presence. The story of men and women caught up in discrimation and suspicion is important in this novel, but also the relationships between the newly arrived men and the population, and some of the women also feature heavily. This is a well paced novel, full of vivid descriptions and fascinating insights into characters. The research into and understanding of real lives are so impressive, and yet they never get in the way of a carefully plotted book. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.
Lawrie is seen as someone who enjoys playing his beloved clarinet in various groups in different parts of London. It supplements his wages from a hardworn job as a postman, as he does his rounds methodically and carefully. He also finds time to see Evie, the girl who lives next door to his lodging, despite her strict and watchful mother. Communication between the two women is very difficult, as Evie’s skin colour reveals her mother’s brief relationship with an immigrant. Evie is very attracted to Lawrie, but he has secrets which revolve around events which took place just after his arrival in Britain. Their relationship is developing when Lawrie is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and discovers something in a pond which rocks the community and brings out long -standing secrets and suspicions.
This book looks at the variation in the reception of those who were so different in appearance. Some people were kind and thoughtful, while others were so challenged by their own insecurities that they chose to react violently. It is picture of a society forever changed by war, loss and tragedy, but also of the clash of expectations for life in a city changed forever. I found this book a dynamic witness to a troubled time, through the eyes of those who are living with challenges every day. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, in terms of story, personalities and setting, and recommend it as an enlightening tale of life in a city confronting change.
This book reminded me strongly of Andrea Levy’s wonderful “Small Island”, which the late author said that she attempted for the first time to capture something of the challenges faced by those who arrived on the Windrush. There is hope amid the realisation that people did adjust eventually, but it was for some a painful experience. This is a book which is really worth tracking down.