Yet again an ‘old’ review, but new to this blog. Surprised this wasn’t on the Bailey’s Longlist this year actually.
A quick disclaimer – I won an arc of this in a Goodreads giveaway, but that has no influence on my review and all opinions are my own.
Weirdly, I ended up enjoying this book about as much as I expected, although for different reasons than anticipated. I expected this to be quite an adventurous tale set against a gritty historical backdrop. Instead I got a rather simple yet tender story, without much action at all (to the point that it did lose me for a little while about a third of the way through), but full of heart, grief and humanity.
Characters are something Duffy does well and I enjoyed most of them. However, there is a vast array of characters in this and I didn’t feel they all needed to be there. Duffy tries to nuance each of them, and there just isn’t enough room for this, despite the sparse narrative. I would have much preferred less characters, and for her to really shape a few rather than brush over many. The character of Ida specifically called out to me and I feel she could have been explored more to better connect me to her story as a whole. Without giving any spoilers, there is a spiritual quality to her character that was barely touched on, and I would have loved more of that.
Weaving atmosphere into the setting is also another thing that I felt was done well. I really got a feel of a London gone by and the strength and resolve of the working class community. A couple of times crass language was used and it felt unnecessary to me, just added in to make a point and this took me out of the story a bit. However, the tone really did change for the better as the tragedy unfolded, and that pulled me back into the story after the lull I felt a little way in. Knowing this was inspired by real events makes me even more curious about the story, and I’m not sure I got quite enough from what the synopsis promised.
All in all, I really did enjoy this book but I still have mixed feelings about it because I feel that too much was attempted and that hindered my overall connection to it. Maybe more of a 3 and a half star rating, but I definitely want to check out more from Stella Duffy.