Stella is a young woman in London in the early 1960s. It is a time when a five pound note can get you accommodation for a few nights and food for a few days. A time when unmarried young women were turned away from family planning clinics, but male poets could behave as they like. A time of parties with recreational drugs, cheap alcohol and low expectations. Pubs were community centres, bedsits and rooms were sparsely furnished, and the only phones were coin operated on the corner. This is a book which breathes first hand experience, and is written in a slightly disjointed fashion to reflect the disjoined lives lived by young people. This is the story of Stella, trained art teacher, at large in a London which can be disorientating and frustrating. This is a book which looks at the grim reality of life, in a very basic way, and brings to life the trials and tribulations of a young woman’s life in a time of social upheaval. It was a good opportunity to read and review this book of a challenging time in a woman’s life.
Stella manages to get to London briefly with the help of a friend who was older, and there meets the intriguing and very different Dave. A few days of passion and immeasurable time takes place until she must return home to finish her training as an artist. Dave writes and informs her of his other love, and she realises that she wants to go to London and live a life away from her family. With only a five pound note she arrives in London with half formed ideas of applying for teaching jobs. It soon becomes apparent that she must find somewhere to live, and earn money for food and rent. Visiting an employment agency leads her to an emergency job in a cafe, before she can begin work in a grocery shop. It rather sets the pattern for her later progress; jobs which pay little but which leave her no time to go for interviews for more serious jobs. As she drifts from job to job, room to room, this is not the happy life of a young woman enjoying freedom, but the honest account of a girl who knows that she is living on the edge of her own life. Despite the mention of painting a certain number of pictures of London, really the images are word images, so many of them, which reflect the artist’s eye for colour and form.
This is an intriguing book which keeps moving when other books may well get bogged down. Stella is the main character, the link, and it shows how she endures less than satisfactory relationships with men whose sense of commitment is at best tenuous. As the Cuban missile crisis takes place there is a sense of the end of the world being imminent, and that is a fascinating element of the story. There is a lot of social history in this book, of how women were treated, how they put up with poor treatment by employers and men, how they managed to exist. I felt that the writing is vivid, with many telling details and word pictures of places and people. I found it an honestly written book which reveals so much about Stella and her life in this period. The writing is so powerful and strong that it is easy to become deeply involved in the story and carried along with all that happens. It is a deeply revealing book with much to recommend it.