19 December 2009 – Borders closing down sale

I read about this book on the DoveGreyReader blog and was intrigued, so glad to pick it up in the Borders sale.

Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things sought to portray an urban streetscape through the shifting viewpoints of its residents, and Andrew Sean Greer’s Story of a Marriage played with our expectations of race and class; this novel, feted like those two, felt like it achieved what they failed.  Set in Loughborough Junction (between Camberwell and Brixton), this is a hugely recognisable South London, and I do wonder what someone who hadn’t lived in the boroughs South East of the Thames would make of it (an interesting thought given the discussion we had about What Was Lost and Birmingham at Book Group the other night).  Centering around the aging Robert, slowly planning to give up his dry cleaners, and Akeel, the young man from East London who wants to take over the business, Duffy quietly assembles a cast of supporting characters and weaves them seamlessly and cleverly through the (little) action of the plot, just as I recall the community in New Cross working.  All are drawn well, with their different voices, and there’s a quiet elegaic feeling for the things that are lost and the things that are left behind.  From a homesick Australian nanny to a singing Rastafarian man on the 345 bus, we have a bond with the characters, who seem like people drawn from life, rather than invented cyphers.  

As I consider the book after finishing it, it reminds me of a TV documentary shown a while back about the inhabitants of a tower block in South London which was being regenerated, and I wonder if that, directly or indirectly, inspired the author.

There was a little more action than I at first expected, and I’m not sure if I will re-read this or not, so it will rest in my permanent collection for a while, but available for loan.  I think I’ll find myself thinking about this book well after closing its pages at the end of the story.