Monday, June 26, 2017

London Belongs to Me is Incredibly Long But Worth It


I love a big fat book. I love to sink into the story and get completely engrossed in the characters. I also love British books, and books set during World War II. I especially love books about the War at Home -- I'm far more interested about how the war affected people's everyday lives than battles and military maneuvers. In short, Norman Collins' London Belongs to Me basically ticks off every box for my literary love. It took me almost a month to finish it since I was reading other books as well, but I loved every minute of it.

First published in 1945, this story starts in 1938 and spans about two years in the lives of the residents of #10, Dulcimer Street, in Kennington, London, a working-class neighborhood south of the Thames river (not to be confused with the much posher Kensington). The story begins just before Christmas, when one of the residents, Mr. Jossor, leaves his last day of work at an accounting firm upon his retirement and returns home to his flat. Mr. Josser lives with his wife and adult daughter Doris, who's ready to fly the nest and share a flat with another girl, much to her mother's chagrin. Other residents of the building include Connie, a failed middle-aged actress who's barely scraping by as a coat-check girl; the adenoidal Mr. Puddy, who can hardly hold down a job as a night watchman and is hoarding canned goods for the onset of war; Mrs. Boon and her son Percy, a mechanic who's tempted by a life of crime; the widowed landlady Mrs. Vizzard; and the mysterious new lodger Mr. Squales.

This is a novel in which for most of the characters, not much happens and yet everything happens. Over 738 pages, we follow the lives of the residents as they fall in and out of love, find jobs, have dreams and aspirations, and sometimes even land in jail. They're a disparate group but ultimately, they're like a family. I love books in which a lot of personalities are thrown together and this is exactly that sort of group. It reminded me a little bit of Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude which I read and loved a few years ago.

This book is long and sprawling, with very thin pages and tiny print, yet I was sorry that it ended. The writing isn't particularly flowery or descriptive, but Collins made me feel as though I were right there, living in the same building, and all the characters were incredibly real. There's a short epilogue that takes place at Christmas 1940 which gives a quick update, but I can only imagine what happened to all the characters during and after the war. I wish there were a sequel, but sadly, there isn't. However, thanks to Rachel at Book Snob (who raved about this book), I discovered that it was made into a film which you can watch online at YouTube (though I cannot imagine how they condensed this doorstopper into a film less than two hours long.)

Collins also wrote several other books and I've already got Bond Street Story which is also available from Penguin, though it's surprisingly expensive for a paperback (luckily I received a copy as a Mother's Day gift). It's also quite long, but not as long as London Belongs to Me. This book is my idea of perfect summer reading and I'm sure it will be on my list of favorites at the end of the year.

14 comments:

  1. I discovered this book last year, perhaps from another blogger, though I'm not sure about that. I haven't read it yet, but it's definitely on my list. I was surprised, really, that I'd never heard anything about it until then, considering how popular it has been over the years. Thank you so much for writing about it!

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    1. I think I first heard about it from Rachel's blog, Book Snob. She also talked about it on her podcast with Simon, Tea or Books? If you haven't heard their podcast it's just wonderful. They're really insightful and funny and I always want to read everything they recommend!

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  2. Oh wow, that sounds like my kind of book too! I'll be putting that on my wishlist.

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  3. Oh man, I agree it is the best feeling when you never want a book to end. I felt that way about the first Dickens novel I ever read and about every Dorothy Whipple I have read so far. I just wanted to stay in that world for 500 more pages. I am definitely adding London Belongs to Me to my TBR!

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  4. I hadn't heard of this but it ticks my boxes too so I'll look for it!

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  5. This looks great - I'll have to try and get it! Thanks for blogging about it :)

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  6. Rachel raved about this so much - and this lovely review, now... - but I just can't face that many pages!

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  7. I haven't heard about this book, but I am intrigued. Like you, I want to read about how the war affects people at home.

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  8. I love this type of book too! It's going on the must read list.

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  9. This one sounds like just my cup of tea. Thanks.

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  10. I am completely with you on the British books--WWII--War at home interest. I read London Belongs to Me last year and loved it. I just bought a copy of Bond Street Story a month or so ago but I haven't gotten to it yet.

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  11. I really don't need to start another book but I HIU & you've made it sound so tempting... Come in Spinner by Dymphna Cusack & Florence James is another WWII Home Front book about three women working in the beauty salon of a posh Sydney hotel. It expands out to include the stories of their families& friends. Really engrossing story & controversial in its day (it was published in an expurgated version in 1951 & the complete version was only published in the 1980s).

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    1. Oh, that sounds like exactly my kind of book! I love extended families and I've read so little about Australia. I did a good one last summer called The Women in Black by Madelaine St. John, about three women working in a Sydney department store in the 1950s. I'd never heard of it but received it in book exchange. It was published in 1993 and the author has been shortlisted for the Booker prize. I really enjoyed it.

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  12. So glad you enjoyed this, Karen...but how could you not! Collins sets such a well-drawn scene you feel as though you're living amidst everyone. Bond Street Story is every bit as good...enjoy!

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