Thursday, June 2, 2016
London Belongs to Me - Norman Collins
This was a big book, about 734 pages, but I didn't really want it to end. Except that then I could start another book or two. It took me over a month to read it and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. I read about it on someone else's blog, but I don't remember whose. Thank you, though!
London Belongs to Me starts just before World War II, in 1938. The setting is 10 Dulcimer Street, Kennington, London, 'what was then a mildly respectable inner London suburb', to quote from the Introduction. It is a rooming house broken up into apartments. Mrs. Vizzard, a widow, is the landlady and lives in the basement.
Mr. and Mrs. Josser and their daughter, Doris, are long time tenants. Their son, Ted, is married and lives elsewhere with his wife and baby, referred to as 'Baby'. Mrs. Josser can never forgive Ted's wife for being a former usherette. The book opens with Mr. Josser's retirement. The Jossers have been talking about buying a cottage in the country, where Mr. Josser's weak chest should be healed by the sunshine and fresh air.
Mrs. Boon and her son Percy live upstairs. She lives for her son, but he's a bit on the slow side mentally, in my opinion. He also has trouble distinguishing between his fantasies and reality. He's young and often imagines he's in relationships with women, usually blondes, although he's barely spoken to them. He does, however, get into serious trouble when he starts stealing cars and kills a woman he used to date. Mrs. Boon refuses to believe he's guilty and spends all her hard-earned money for his defense. Mr. Josser also provides funds for a barrister (or attorney or whatever the English equivalent is, I can never keep them straight).
Then there's Connie, the aging actress, party girl, life of the party. Except she doesn't see that she's aged out of the role. Now she's an attendant in the ladies room at a nightclub, where she steals all the little things she can, lipsticks, perfume, compacts. She no longer has the same effect when she flirts and laughs and jokes. She has only her bird, Duke, to keep her company. Connie keeps popping up throughout the book, often as comic relief, but she's a sad figure in my eyes.
Mr. Puddy's story is brief but heroic in an unintentional way. He apparently has problems with his adenoids, or a perpetual cold, because of the way he speaks.
Mrs. Vizzard, who prides herself on running a respectable establishment and being ladylike, makes a fool of herself over a handsome spiritualist who comes to rent the basement apartment beside hers. She really should have known better. Mr. Squales is not a gentleman.
The stories of these people are interwoven. People come and go, jobs are changed, things happen. The war is coming and by the end of the book, it has come. I can't even begin to tell you about all the story lines, there are so many. I was happy to get wrapped up in the everydayness of the lives of the tenants. I found myself eager to get back to their lives, to find out what was going to happen to them.
(I also learned that England interned Italians during WWII, like the US did the Japanese. I didn't know that. This affected one of the characters in the book, two characters, really. Somehow, my formal history education ended around the US Civil War, so anything I know about history after that I either read about or lived through. Or maybe I just wasn't paying attention, although I passed with high marks.)