Each of these five point of view characters are vividly and sympathetically realised on the page. Each of them follows an interesting narrative arc, complete with back story and associated minor characters, I could have followed for an entire novel. But just as the characters seem to question whether there’s anything more cohesive than the fragments of their world (p151, 267):
Olivia who never did a single thing but look out for everyone else, never had a thought that was solely her own and never did like she’s doing now which is writing with her head trained on the page like it is in a brace, and writing a word at a time, building to a sentence, not looking further than a sentence or thinking about the whole of the sum of the sentences; she’s writing one word like it’s one foot in front of the other, out, out, out of here.
I wanted a stronger core to hold them all together. Of course, their paths intersect: Francine, Robin and Olivia at the university; Ed is Olivia’s long-lost father; Robin and Katrin become lovers. Their anxieties intersect too as they all await some future over which they have little control: Francine, Robin and Ed facing possible redundancy, with Katrin also worried about unstable employment prospects; Francine, Ed and Katrin juggling their allegiance to homes in other lands; Olivia and Francine, unbeknown to each other, both affected by the crash that killed an Italian motorcycle rider. The blurb tells us:
The five of them cross paths and cross swords to bring London living unforgettably to life. Real London lives
but I felt it could have been any big city with a multicultural population, and Ed’s reminiscences about his native Guyana made a far stronger impression on me. As a reader, I wanted a sense that this novel was about something less amorphous.
The depiction of university yuppification and financial cuts to public service is highly contemporary, and the pain of preparing oneself for disappointment struck a chord. I also found Francine’s intrusion into the lives of the players in the car crash extremely moving, as well as both Ed and Katrin’s nostalgia for what they’ve left behind. But these and other gems in the writing were somewhat obscured by my frustration at jumping between too many different stories.
This is Tessa McWatt’s seventh novel, kindly sent to me by her publishers, Scribe.