In 1968 Stephen Newman arrives in England from California. Sent down from Oxford, he hurriedly marries his English girlfriend Andrea to avoid returning to America and the draft board. Over the next 40 years they and their friends build lives of middle-class success until the events of late middle-age and the new century force them to realise that their fortunate generation has always lived in a fool's paradise.
©2010 Linda Grant (P)2011 WF Howes Ltd
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"Thank goodness that's finished"
There are only two reasons why I finished this book - because I had to read it for a book group and because it was being narrated to me by the brave Paul Panting on behalf of Audible. It was quite simply, tedious. There was little narrative that grabbed me, I felt the story line was just a tool to allow the author to express her opinions on every major event that has taken place since 1960. We had the baby boom and the contraceptive pill, hippies and LSD, the rise and rise of television, house prices and 9/11. ....And a great deal more besides.
One discussion did interest me - the one about advertising, and one really annoyed me - the idea of 'time', how cliche is that?? The repetition of the idea that the generation represented would never get old was also worn thin by the end of the book.
The main character was the rather unlikable Stephen Newman. He is mixed race, half Cuban, half Polish, and has spent his childhood in America. He is very much an American, however, even once he finds himself living in Oxford and then London, UK. He marries Andrea in order to avoid being called back to the States to fight in the Vietnam war and they progress from squatting students to middle class comfort, with 2.5 children. And that's about as exciting as it gets.
I enjoyed Linda Grant's book about life in Palestine in the post-war era, When I Lived in Modern Times, but this felt like it had been written by another author entirely.
"I ended up liking it more than I thought"
Having read Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant and seeing comparisons with this earlier book, I bought this to see for myself. And for much of the book I was struck by the overlapping historical timeframe and apparent similarity of themes. The style is similar, a story of people told in a slightly detached, critical, objective way with the narrative driven by zooming into periodic and detailed life events, contextualised by major historic incidents and periods rather than by detailed characterisation or even plot. This creates an apparent detached and unemotional viewpoint, and as in the other book I had little to no empathy with the characters for most of the time, in fact many of the characters were actually (to me) quite dislikeable. The theme appears to be the fact that chance, or 'luck', is what drives everyone's personal journey through life. At the heart of this book, as in 'Upstairs at the Party', is a secret. And one that drives this theme of chance. What if I turn left today instead of right. Most times it doesn't matter, but infrequently this simple decision can mark out the rest of ones life, happiness or sadness, poverty or wealth, life or death. The other key critical theme is the more jaundiced view of the 'flower children' of the early baby-boomer era, explored as overlapping themes across both books. The freedoms they all thought they had, the complete difference from the preceding generation that endured WW2 and built the conditions upon which the 60's were founded, the reality that existed behind the cliched view of this era, are all stripped bare. The 'yuppies' of the 90's were the hippies of the 60's, so what happened to the principles??
Anyway, having found the book an unemotional view of some pretty unlikeable people of the 'Islington' set that really grate on me.......when the last words were read I realised that in fact I had been engaged throughout, that in fact I'd been 'push me-pull you'd' through the book, that actually I had been made to contrast and compare my own life, starting a decade later than these characters but covering broadly the same era, and I was touched by the core themes. The narrator did a creditable job but, as I found (with a different narrator) with 'Upstairs at the Party' it seemed too respectful, too openly 'poetic' at times, too respectful..........but I think it's a tough job that these novels provide for any narrator! I can't say I LOVED this because I normally prefer t find something in the characters with which I can engage and find empathy with, but it has made me think more than any other book recently. I will be exploring Linda Grants other books now, dammit!
I'm not going to ruin the story by covering this, just read it!
As before, I'm not going to spoil it, just read it
It has made me think more than pant other recent book..........though it certainly didn't make me feel happy for most of it!
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