Alice O'Keefe - On the Up coverAnother NetGalley read, this one courtesy of Hodder Books – thank you for the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.

Sylvia and Obe live in a small flat on a council estate with their toddler and baby. Sylv feels she’s doing all the emotional – and physical – labour and her body and mind are starting to unravel, while Obe thinks constantly of poetry. As Sylv enters the battle to get back her job after maternity leave, is Obe’s own job as a playworker enough for her? The estate is populated by a beautiful mix of people, and I particularly liked the sensitive Orthodox Jewish man with his interest in wildlife.

Meanwhile, Sylv’s sister is living in a squat with an equal but different sense of community, and her best friend Frankie seems to have the perfect, well-off life. Even mum has a new boyfriend at last. Sylvia writes notes in a book for the council’s noise department and uses her contact there as a therapist, but it’s only when she notices more than just noise (noise that Obe just can’t seem to hear but which takes the last remaining scraps of sleep from Sylvia) coming from the flat upstairs that things begin to change. And then more changes: when the flats are threatened with fancy regeneration, will the community crumble or pull together?

It’s a beautifully observed book with a good theme of things not being as they first seem. As well as the rich community, I liked the fact that Sylvia and Obe’s different races aren’t the thing that matters at all when their marriage starts to come apart (this is really well-observed, if uncomfortable, but I did like the emphasis on politeness as a healer!) and are inconsequential, only really arising when Obe reminds Sylvia to check her white privilege when she blithely ticks a box saying she’d be willing to be arrested during a protest – he, of course, has been stopped and searched at least once a month since he was a teenager. It’s right that that moment of reality is put in.

The ending is a little fairytale, but this is a novel and we need to feel good about something! The communities pulling together and the pull of family, even when it’s not that traditional, is lovely. This would appeal to fans of “The Lido”, I think.

“On the Up” is published on 14 November.