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  1. A Stranger City is an ambitious novel that seeks to draw parallels between recent history and Brexit Britain, using the stories of various members of northeast London’s diverse community to illustrate the situation. The frame on which the novel hangs is the discovery of an unidentified young female body in the River Thames. The discovery is investigated by a policeman and featured in a documentary by a filmmaker. We then broaden out and meet their families and some of the wider community. We find a community that is diverse even within the United Kingdom, including Scots, Irish and migrants from elsewhere in England. Then we find migrants from the Commonwealth and semi-recent conflict zones - Iran after the fall of the Shah. And then there are the more recent migrants from within the EU. All are seen to be integral to the London we see today. Contrast this with an England that seems to be retreating into itself, harking after the glory days of an Empire, capital punishment and boiled cabbage. Those who are smart enough, able enough, want to move away from this increasingly hostile and ignorant society. Which is ironic, since so many of them came to London precisely to enjoy a broader, global perspective and experience culture and sophistication. The story of the dead woman remains in the background. For a while it is (intentionally) confused by a parallel story of a missing social media star - a vacuous young woman who is famous only for being famous. And while the dead woman mystery is ultimately resolved, it is not satisfying. The main point is that it is possible for someone to go missing and not be missed, not be reported in this unfeeling society. Might it have been different if she had been English? A Stranger City is successful in depicting a multicultural society; it makes interesting political points showing the contradiction between the current insularity and the aspirations of individual members of that society. There is some wonderful depiction of characters. But it doesn’t quite hang together as a story. It is too difficult to hold so many characters in the mind all at once, so each time a character re-appears, he or she has to be re-learned. Their inter-relationships are too opaque and the narrative drive is just not there. Which is a pity, because the descriptive writing is fabulous. ***00
  2. Lenny Lyskey sets off for a medical for National Service in 1950s London, confident that his wheeler dealer uncle will pull some strings and get him off. He does get off, but his uncle's bribe was wasted: Lenny has TB, as does his sister Miriam, and they are soon shipped off to a sanitorium in Kent under the newly formed NHS. This is the starting point of Linda Grant's novel, which tells the story of sanitorium life at the point when the antibiotics which went on to cure TB weren't freely available. It has a great cast of characters - a sanitorium is a great setting to bring together people from all walks of life. I learned lots about the gruesome approaches to treatment, and I felt really involved with the characters. Linda Grant has written lots, and it shows. There was a beauty in the writing which wasn't showy or intrusive, and which I really liked. I will need to look into her other stuff.
  3. " 'If you go back and look at your life there are certain scenes, acts, or maybe just incidents on which everything that follows seems to depend. If only you could narrate them, then you might be understood. I mean the part of yourself that you don't know how to explain.' In the early Seventies a glamorous and androgynous couple known collectively as Evie/Stevie appear out of nowhere on the isolated concrete campus of a new university. To a group of teenagers experimenting with radical ideas they seem blown back from the future, unsettling everything and uncovering covert desires. But the varnished patina of youth and flamboyant self-expression hides deep anxieties and hidden histories. For Adele, with the most to conceal, Evie/Stevie become a lifelong obsession, as she examines what happened on the night of her own twentieth birthday and her friends' complicity in their fate. A set of school exercise books might reveal everything, but they have been missing for nearly forty years. From summers in Cornwall to London in the twenty-first century, long after they have disappeared, Evie/Stevie go on challenging everyone's ideas of what their lives should turn out to be." I found this an unsettling book. Adele is living through what could almost have been one of my alternative stories; not that I'm from Liverpool and the only child of a Jewish rogue but Adele is my age and I was advised to go to York university to read English, probably becuse like Adele I didn't have quite the right fit for more traditional establishments. It felt distnictly weird reading about somewhere I've always rather regretted that I didn't go to, (I'm not sure I'd have fitted in to Adele's York though) and comparing what I was doing at certain key events such as the Hyde Park bombings with what she was doing. Libda Grant's writing, is as ever, wonderful and her depiction iof university life and her eye for picking out salient details is spot on. However once Adele has left university the plot seems to lose its way, the charecterisation is more sketchy, the plot more jerky and the tone becomes somewhat downbeat in place and the narrative loses its impetus. I thought the ending was really pretty weak. However it is a memorable book and I raced through it. 5 stars for the first half, only 4 for the second.
  4. This is quite simply a very, very good book and one that I would never have even looked at if it hadn't been for MM's priase of Linda Grant's writing. Thank you so much! It's 1946 and Evelyn Sert, a reluctant hairdresser from London, sets sail for Palestine where Jews from all over the world are gathering in the hopes of making a Zionist state in Palestine. Evelyn has no particular strong political feels, it's her "Uncle Joe" , her dead mother's protector, who is passionate about the idea of a Jewish homeland, and since he can hardly go and help set it up himself as he has a "real" family to look after in London he despatches his ex-mistress's daughter instead under the guise of being a Christian tourist, the only way she can get a visa for the country. Evelyn has no idea what she is going to, she quickly discovers that kibbutz life is not for her and flees to the city, where an innocent in the middle of a cultural melting pot she's only half aware most of the time of what's going on around her. This book works on so many levels. The writing is superb, as is the charecterisation and though the story line is hardly fast moving I fund the book absolutely mesmerising because Linda Grant evokes a sense of time and place so very well that you feel that you're living along with Evelyn. It's also utterly unjudgemental and even handed. I loved it.
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