Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Guest Book Review: England's Lane by Joseph Connolly

Each year I have the pleasure of working with a group of readers to collectively select the books that will feature in a reading programme, Summer Reads. Between August 2013 and January 2014, the Readers' Circle will work through a longlist of more than 150 books to find the 6 titles that we fall in love with and want to recommend to other readers. And throughout that period I'll be posting some of the reviews here on Books, Time and Silence.
*Thanks to the publisher for providing review copies of this book.

Guest Review by Rachel Narkiewicz

For readers who can remember England in 1959 this was real nostalgia.  A country still recovering from war, with its hardships and stiff upper lip approach to life.  The memories of the local row of shops each with its smells and personalities.  They always seemed familiar and unchanging.  A reminder that so relatively recently fish fingers for tea followed by a munchmallow was a real treat.  It is a far cry from the Malls we now have, filled with food outlets full of choice and excess.  Where eating out is the norm for many.  A reminder also, that in 1959 people were still hanged in this country.  We might reflect on what constitutes progress in our society and what doesn’t.  What does remain constant is that as people we still share the same hopes, fears and aspirations as those in 1959.  We have the same secrets kept from our neighbours, our family and sometimes ourselves.

The voices of the characters in England’s Lane were strong and individual.  It was easy to identify who was who just from the style of writing and the language used.  Just as in life some characters were more complex than others.  All those in the book seemed real.  Even when their acts were extraordinary they themselves remained ordinary, which seems like the truth in real life.  We have all experienced surprise when discovering that, for example, someone considered an upstanding member of community turns out to have had their hand in the till.  The author has captured 1959 well.  There may be an autobiographical element to it or maybe he listened closely to the memories of others.  Whatever it was, at times it read as though the reader were watching a film; the imagery was that strong.

And yet, somehow this book did not hit the spot.  Considering it had murder, deceit, extra marital affairs, prostitution and theft it did not turn it into anything other than a gentle page turner.  There seemed to be very little passion.  Some characters were faced with life changing events and sometimes it felt as though their almost pragmatic responses were placid in the extreme.  It felt almost emotionless.  It was English reserve in the extreme.  For readers who lived in that era this could be a trip down memory lane.  For readers to whom this time means little it may have less appeal.

England's Lane was first published by Quercus in August 2012. Edition shown is the paperback edition, published August 2013. ISBN: 9781780877211, 432pp

Rachel Narkiewicz
I am originally (and proudly) from the Black Country and was brought up in an industrial area in a household with no television. With no garden and little green space the local library became my refuge and thus began my love of reading. I am sometimes the rude person in the room absorbed by a book to the exclusion of everything and everyone else.

Being involved with the Readers’ Circle is a fantastic opportunity to read a large variety of books including some from genres I would not usually choose. I feel this expands my scope of reading and I very much enjoy sharing my views with others.  Reading their opinions sometimes leads me to reconsider my thoughts and look at the book from a different perspective. I read for many reasons - to escape, to learn, to reflect and also just to enjoy! I can (just) imagine a life without television, films and music but never without books!

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