London 1938 - war hangs like a shadow over the heads of every inhabitant of the town. But London doesn't stop. In his beautiful preface to this, Norman Collin's most famous novel, the author introduces the "Real Londoners" who star in his novel.
These Real Londoners "sleep the night in London as well as work the day there", and of these, some are "in love, some in debt, some committing murders, some adultery, some trying to get on in the world, some looking forward to a pension, some getting drunk, some losing their jobs, some dying, and some holding up the new baby."
Each of the characters in Collin's book are perfectly crafted. None of them are perfect, they are ordinary working-class folk (though some pretend otherwise), often struggling to survive living ordinary lives. As with all people, ordinary lives are full of drama and excitement, love and hate, passion and fear. And London on the eve of war, is a city that forms the back drop to their stories.
First we meet Mr. Josser, fiercly proud of his job, at the moment of his retirement,struggling with a bag of memories and an ornate clock as he tries to get home to Dulcimer Street to spend Christmas with his family. As he arrives, we met both his family and the other characters who live in the house they share with their landlady, Mrs. Vizzard who seems to be waiting for the end of her life.
To tell more about the story would ruin the book. But beware, if you base your knowledge of this story on the famous film, the novel is more complex with a longer ending.
But what struck me as fascinating, as someone who lived in London for almost 7 years, is how contemporary the novel reads. The streets are crowded and the tube over-full. People work different hours, but still laugh and joke as any officer worker does in the run up to Christmas. The pubs are full and people watch their pennies, calculating how much they can afford to drink, and everyone dreams of getting out. I was surprised at how often extra-marital sex is mentioned (or hinted at!), so that's accurate too!
It's a great novel, funny and exciting and a window on a strange moment of history, when war was on the horizon and London was on the target list.