This Lovely City
The drinks are flowing. The music’s playing. But the party can’t last.
With the Blitz over and London in a state of disrepair after the war, workers from the British commonwealth were invited to England to help repair the ‘motherland.’ Arriving from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush, Lawrie Matthews works as a musician in the Soho music halls by night and as a postman by day. When tragedy strikes in the local area, fingers are pointed at the small community of Windrush men who have recently arrived in Brixton. Fuelled by the anti-immigration tactics of white supremacist groups, fear amongst residents start to grow in a city that had once welcomed these men with open arms.
Personally, the time period of this novel is one I find very interesting. Having loved Andrea Levy’s Small Island last year and not read anything like it since, I was extremely excited when I heard this book was coming out. I think what fascinates me most about this era is that for the British it should have been a time of relief, an end to hardship and privation. Yet soon we find out that this ‘lovely’ city is far from this, with prejudice and poverty still rife for many. At one point in the book Lawrie mentions the idea that the British are exactly what they were fighting against. This I believe to be a very powerful message that is sustained throughout the book.
At times this story is not an easy read. Having read This Lovely City without any prior knowledge of what it was about, I assumed that it would be a light-hearted historical romance novel. Needless to say, I could not have been more wrong. Some of the language and attitudes expressed make for some deeply uncomfortable moments which, thankfully, the author manages to deal with sensitively. That being said, the book remains a work of great beauty and some of its more unpleasant themes did work well for its character development. In one way or another, all of Hare’s characters are deeply flawed and I believe through having their own past and harbouring untold secrets, it makes them that much more wonderfully complex.
I found the book’s narrators, Lawrie and Evie, to be especially likeable. As two halves of the novel’s main love interest, Lawrie and Evie represent the championing of young love against the odds. While reading the book I was surprised at how much I was rooting for their relationship. Evie in particular is a character who struggles to navigate her identity, as an illegitimate mixed-race girl growing up in a place that sees her as different. She is hyper-aware that she is seen as a source of shame for her mother and finds a sense of belonging within the West Indian community who have newly settled into London. Lawrie too is a character who feels at odds with his surroundings as he learns to come to terms with his brother’s death and is forced to work a dead-end job to supplement the income which his passion does not grant him. In many ways their love offers a shining light of hope within the novel that keeps the reader optimistic in spite of the adversities they face.
Louise Hare is a talented new author who has an aptitude for creating a real sense of time and place in her writing. In this debut she has succeeded in being able to immerse her reader in the period’s social history and capture the atmosphere of the time through its rich and evocative prose. I will definitely be looking to read more from her in the future. 9/10.
This Lovely City is out now in hardback, eBook and Audio edition.
A big thank you to HarperCollins and Louise Hare for gifting me with this advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review! :-)