Saturday 25 June 2011

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka

A few weeks ago I was travelling by train through Kent, the Garden of England.  I saw the strawberry fields and through a gap in a hedge I was completely taken aback to see row after row after row of caravans.  A whole field on the side of a hill had been given over to them.

I hadn't realised when I picked up this book how much this would come back, almost to haunt me.  Although the book is described as hilarious, I think there's far more tragedy than comedy in it.  Whether intended or not, it's a social commentary on migrant workers, on battery farming methods, on human trafficking.  It follows the story of a mixed group of workers in Kent, then on to London and finally, briefly, Sheffield.

I was close to giving up early on in the book, partly because I didn't much care for the characters and the story didn't grab me, but I'm glad now that I persisted.  I'll never look at strawberries or chicken portions in the same way again.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Single to Paris by Alexander Fullerton

What I hadn't realise when I started this novel was that it's the last part of a series of four.  However, although it's very obvious, it doesn't really matter.  In outline, it tells of a Special Operations Executive, Rosie Ewing, who is sent to France in August 1945 to try to rescue two agents being held by the Gestapo in Paris.

The book was written in 2001, but I wouldn't have been in the least surprised to hear it was in the 1950s.  In one way that's probably a good point, after all the book is set in Paris just as the Second World War is ending, but there's something about the style that seems to me to be dated.  Added to that, very few sentences are complete.  It reads like someone's thought processes in places, almost a stream of consciousness.

If you're looking for something with the atmosphere of Paris, Single to Paris will give you that, even though at times it sounds like a GPS system telling you, "Now turn right into boulevard St Michel..."