This book is well deserving of its accolades; Whitbread Book of the Year and the Orange Prize for fiction. It covers the period at the end of the Second World War, when men from the Commonwealth who'd fought on Britain's side emigrated to the "Mother Land", expecting a very different welcome.
The story is related by the four main characters. Two are from Jamaica, Hortense and Gilbert; more British than the British, they leave their homeland where they are respected members of a community, to seek their golden future. Gilbert hopes to train as a lawyer but finds prejudice against him and has to settle for a job driving a Royal Mail van. Hortense finds similar prejudice when she applies for a teaching job. With her impeccable manners and dress sense, she is horrified by the coarse way of life in her new home.
They take lodgings with Queenie, a great character, who is letting out rooms to make ends meet while her husband, Bernard, is fighting in India. It is assumed that he will not return, so when he suddenly reappears, the comfortable balance within the house is tipped. He demands that these 'coloureds' leave immediately.
There are a number of themes covered by the book, but the one that stuck with me was the problem encountered by men who had risked their lives to fight against Hitler and deserved recognition, but instead were treated with contempt when they arrived on British shores as civilians. Also that there were people, like Queenie, who ignored what other people thought and befriended these outcasts.