First published by The Big Issue in April 2014
In his fifth novel, the celebrated Tobias Hill delivers a heartbreaking glimpse of 1940s London. Signs of the war are inescapable: buildings are in abandoned ruin, food is rationed and keep is very hard-earned. Three families find themselves in community housing, struggling to make ends meet at the Bethnal Green market – an evocative character in itself. An all seeing narrator sheds light on the stories of each character, and impressively avoids confusion between points of view.
The text is occasionally weakened by meandering detail, but often saved by exquisite prose (a feuding father and daughter ‘nurse their drinks like wrongs’).
One family is headed by Michael Lockhart. Aloof with ambition, he will stop at nothing to rise above the working class and his ruthless actions see all three families torn apart by grief. Once united only by circumstance, it is obsession, tragedy, deceit and regret that will keep them entwined over three generations.
Cruelly, or perhaps cleverly, the characters you fall for are likely to disappear before you get the chance to know them.
This is a carefully constructed tale of the devastating effects of conflict, poverty and – ultimately – of powerlessness.