Miller Street SW22 by Jude Hayland
This is a near contemporary novel of three people who move into flats in a newly converted Edwardian house in southwest London in the autumn of 2005. Each one comes with their own history and their present challenges, each one hoping that this move will be for the best, even if it seems a little difficult at the time.
Hayland has written a powerful novel which combines the stories of disparate lives to great effect. Each character with their preoccupations seems familiar quickly, with problems that are nearly universal. They are drawn together by their sharing of a communal building but can maintain their private lives behind closed doors. They become closer as plans evolve for a centenary of the street party, something which is driven by the determined Frances who takes time from her planned programme of action to change a relationship issue. Sam is adjusting his pace and slowing down to look after his wife Lydia, whose illness is challenging everything they have both known, their relationship to this point having been lived in any place except suburbia. Catherine is a lonely widow whose husband’s death actually resolved a separation that they were experiencing, but is now experiencing life with a sense of sorrow. As the characters come together willingly and unwillingly Hayland manages to develop their emerging stories over the seasons. It is an immersive story which changes pace to permit past events and present challenges to blend into a realistic novel which I fond very enjoyable. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special book.
The novel begins with an experience endured by an unnamed young man in the autumn of 1966. While driving home on the eve of his departure in an international adventure, he has a distressing experience which he cannot explain, but which loads him up with guilt which he cannot admit to over the years to come. Moving onto 2005, Catherine is seem arriving at the house to move into her ground floor flat, but in a fitting expression of her life it seems she have the wrong key. It throws her plans just enough to add to her difficult situation; her husband Eddie’s “sudden, dramatic death” had thrown their unresolved crisis into a new framework. Ignoring the advice of her practical sister and others she had sold the home she had shared with the husband who she no longer loved but now missed, buying a flat in an area convenient for her job in a small museum. Meanwhile Sam is escorting Lydia across a city that she is having increasing difficulty with, as he faces that they need to be in the capital with its accessible services, but that a garden and a local park is a poor substitute for the large expanses of space that they had previously inhabited. Fortunately, their daughter Polly is nearby, but even her practical attitude to life cannot remedy his confusion and more. Frances, meanwhile, is ambitious for her schemes for Willow House and Miller Street; she is eager to promote a well-organized celebration alongside a scheme she has for writing letters to change her own life, part of a plan to make certain people reconsider what they have done to her. Not that she feels like a victim as she carefully considers what she will do to vindicate herself.
The power and intensity of this novel is so well handled in the daily lives of those who are central to the narrative; ayland Hayland has constructed a brilliant collection of incidents and challenges that her principal characters must deal with which seem so realistic and sometimes painfully true. These are not melodramatic events, but the stuff of ordinary lives in the twenty first century. It is a terrifically good novel, and I recommend it to anyone seeking an absorbing read.