“I am living in Zone Three,” she said with a grim smile. John winced sympathetically.
Having looked after an Alzheimer’s-riddled step-grandmother for five years, Betty can’t wait to dash off to London when a will mystery needs to be resolved. She finds herself in 1990s Soho struggling to make ends meet, dealing with a mad neighbour, falling in love with a rock star, and slowly solving a mystery from her grandmother’s heyday.
I love these back-and-forth through history books (e.g. Russian Winter, Blackberry Winter, The Sandalwood Tree). It feels like two stories for the price of one; although, in this case, the two stories felt unrelated for quite a long time – Betty takes ages to get anywhere with her search (which is, perhaps, for plausibility). Both Betty and Arlette are strong, gutsy women with cracks in their veneer; both girls go to London to make their fortune and fall on their feet, but trip over a fair amount. Jewell writes realistic women who screw up their lives, who don’t live perfectly, who don’t always get their happy ending. The men were stronger than in other such books I’ve read (particularly Blackberry Winter) but still mostly boorish and minor; Godfrey is very much the exception, and the racial/social politics was a good serious note to a fairly fluffy read.
Things I loved? 1920s London. 1990s London. London London London. This book knows where it’s set. Oh, and Guernsey too, but I don’t know Guernsey. The London of this book is not quite my London (2010s London), but I know it pretty well and Jewell writes it so enthusiastically – she clearly knows the city very well. Also – Arlette’s glamour – her perfumes, her wardrobe, her friends – she embodied the 1920s London so well. Things which irritated me? The rock star side plot. Betty behaved a bit stupidly on several occasions for no reason that I could discern except that the author wanted to fit some romance into the modern story (the old story had romance aplenty, and well written). 6/10 feels a bit harsh, but the novel lacked something – substance? Grit? I’m not sure, but I came away feeling a bit unsatisfied.
Oh, and that quote at the top? I chose it because I live in Zone Three. And I love it. No sympathy needed (although a little travelcard subsidy wouldn’t go amiss).
Copy kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review – quite some time ago.
Publisher: Random House, 456 pages (paperback)
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