Twenty-Eight Pounds Ten Shillings by Tony Fairweather
This book is subtitled “A Windrush Story”, and it actually tells several stories centred on the journey from various Caribbean islands undertaken by those who were going to the aid of the Mother Country in 1948. It was a big ship,and every person on it had their own reason for being on it. This book uses fictionalised accounts of several passengers, some first hand, in parallel tales of their background, their purpose in travelling to Britain at that point, and the truth of what they found on board. From the experienced Captain to a sought after stowaway, a nurse to escaping teenagers, the story is either told by themselves or an omnipresent narrator. There are elements of tragedy and sadness, but also comedy and music as the women admire the men who are in the majority. There are those who have great expectations for Britain, even that the streets are paved with gold and they will easily find work and opportunities. Some are heading towards family and the continuation of good relationships, while others are merely going because it is a better thing to go rather than stay. There are soldiers returning home after fighting on Britain’s side in foreign fields, still subject to military discipline, and others whose home was not Britain, but who still fought in some of the most dangerous situations,who feel that maybe that the King who has summoned help owes them some gratitude.
This is a book of an enclosed and dynamic community, and no day of the fortnight’s journey is without incident. There is racism in reported dialogue, and some of the men do want to compete, but it is not of the insidious and destructive nature that many of the passengers will discover in cold London, even in June. The dialogue is brilliantly written and reflects the different speech patterns of those from the islands and their backgrounds. Thus there is a Glossary in the back of the book for the words and phrases which may not be familiar, but I found that I could work most meanings out from the context. It is not a murder mystery novel, but there is crime and loss, and the doctor and captain have cause to sit and contemplate the difficulties of this particular voyage.
I really enjoyed this novel and found it an absorbing and entertaining read. I am not an expert in this period of history and know little about the voyage in detail, but it seemed a well resourced novel with enough fictional insight to make some explanation of why people behaved as they did. The Author’s disclaimer that the incidents, events and characters are fictional makes plain that this is not a book of detailed history with a fictional dusting, but he has certainly worked hard to make every element credible and rational. He has certainly immersed himself in the Windrush story which comes over from the narrative as well as the biographical details in the back of the book.
I found that there were certain standout characters in this novel that added greatly to my enjoyment of the book. These include the sensitive and thoughtful Mavis, who is so good in a crisis, and Norma, who is a born organiser. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel, and recommend it to anyone who is interested in the period and the Windrush phenomenon, or who just enjoys a selection of stories well told and contributing to a very readable whole.