Saturday, April 24, 2010

Unreal city ...

There are some benefits to having a cold bad enough to keep you grounded, of which reading - even, as I suggested in the last post, reading turgid Victorian accounts of Alpine ascents - must surely be the most enduring. I've positively galloped through Amanda Craig's Hearts and Minds", enjoying it so much that I've just ordered another of her novels. I shall never see London and Londoners in quite the same light after reading this - the Guardian's description of "the big, panoramic London novel we've been waiting for" just about hits it.

I was impressed by the skill with which the five main characters are drawn, gradually filled in and slowly and inevitably pulled together, and delighted by the strings that weren't tied - the suspicion that there was a further connection left unmade, the doubt left as to precisely what another character might have done or not done. I noted yet another contemporary fiction brought alive by the constant present tense, and the different pace of modern speech after the Greene I read earlier last week. This is skilful, flowing prose that kept me reading instead of fretting, a book I lugged on the train to Glasgow after only a chapter, because I was too hooked to leave it for a day.

I suppose what I learned most from Hearts and Minds was just a hint of the way so much ordinary life teeters on top of so much that is extraordinary - made so by the problem of asylum seekers, economic migrants and the immigration laws. In a way that reminds me of Roman citizens closing their minds to the implications of slavery in their culture, we see the middle classes' reliance on the services of illegal immigrants and their willingness to ignore why, for example, their au pair works for so little, or seems so exhausted by mid-afternoon. When Polly's au pair vanishes suddenly, her reaction is one of irritation, disappointment, panic for her child-care arrangements - but not panic for the au pair or her fate. All this changes as she, like the novel, starts making connections.

Enough, already. Read it!

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