I’m close to catching up with my reviews, so hopefully, soon you won’t be bombarded with them but will get some regularly instead. I’m not sure why this one never made it into the blog, but it’s never too late.
The Lubetkin Legacy by
‘Lively . . . a joy to read’ – The Times
From the bestselling author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
North London in the twenty-first century: a place where a son will swiftly adopt an old lady and take her home from hospital to impersonate his dear departed mother, rather than lose the council flat.
A time of golden job opportunities, though you might have to dress up as a coffee bean or work as an intern at an undertaker or put up with champagne and posh French dinners while your boss hits on you.
A place rich in language – whether it’s Romanian, Ukrainian, Russian, Swahili or buxom housing officers talking managementese.
A place where husbands go absent without leave and councillors sacrifice cherry orchards at the altar of new builds.
Marina Lewycka is back in this hilarious, farcical, tender novel of modern issues and manners.
About the author:
Marina Lewycka was born in Kiel, Germany, after the war, and moved to England with her family when she was about a year old. Her first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, has sold more than a million copies in the UK alone and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, longlisted for the Man Booker and won the Bollinger Everyman Prize for Comic Fiction and the Waverton Good Read Award. Her second novel, Two Caravans, was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Two Caravans and Marina’s third and fourth novels, We Are All Made of Glue and Various Pets Alive and Dead are all available in Penguin. Marina Lewycka lives in Sheffield.
Thanks to Net Galley and Penguin Books UK for offering me a free copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
I read A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian a few years back and enjoyed it, and decided to request this book when I saw it was available in Net Galley.
It is an interesting reading experience. There are two main characters whose alternate points of view guide us through the story. One of them, Berthold, is an unsuccessful middle-aged British Shakespearean actor living with his mother in an apartment designed by famous architect Lubetkin and his story is told in the first person. Violet, a young woman born in Kenia but who has lived in the UK since she was a teenager, moves to London to start a new job and rents the apartment next door to Berthold. Her story is told in the third person. The cast of secondary characters are quirky and include Berthold’s mother, a fabulous woman who unfortunately disappears from the book in the early chapters, Mrs Crazy, a neighbour with an interesting hairdo, a one-legged pigeon, a parrot with a limited repertoire, Inna, an Ukrainian woman with a peculiar view of history, Len, a double amputee due to diabetes now confined to a wheelchair and forever optimistic about the future… The building where they all live is also one of the characters, in a way the main character, in the story, transforming it into a choral event. In the final part of the book (the last 10% according to the e-book reader) the action splits up and part of it moves to Kenia with Violet.
The story includes a variety of themes, from the personal and professional lives of both of the main characters to urbanistic and planning issues, changes to the UK taxes and how those might affect people on benefits, international business corruption in Kenia facilitated by companies in the UK, lies and fraud that appear endemic at all levels, bereavements, family relationships and inheritance disputes, conflicting versions of international politics and history… Some are explored in more detail than others and in my opinion, some felt like an afterthought.
I found the novel irregular, with the beginning and the ending written in a more dynamic style and at a faster place, while in the rest of the book there were some stretches of narration that seemed to intentionally ignore the common writing advice of showing and not telling. I liked the Violet character, and I wouldn’t have minded if more of the story was dedicated to her, but I did not quite connect with Berthold. He functions as a mirror, at times more of a funhouse mirror, reflecting and distorting the characters around him and due to how brilliant and original those are it is difficult to compete with them and not pale in comparison. In telling his story in the first person, his voice can become overbearing, particularly if the reader does not like him enough. I also thought that there was more of the novel dedicated to his character, but that might be my subjective impression.
The resolution of the different stories felt somewhat rushed, although overall satisfactory. I wasn’t sure how well the book would read outside the UK, as some of the issues like the changes to council tax and the different governments and their roles are quite central to a full understanding of the story, but they are pluses to UK readers. In sum, a novel full of unforgettable characters but not quite a rounded reading experience.
Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK! And, if you read any books, take a minute to write a review!