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3.6 out of 5 stars
We Had It So Good
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on 2 August 2015
I was really disappointed with this as I had read Upstairs at the Party and thought it was very good.

This book was strangely similar in as much as it paints a convincing portrait of recent times but, unlike the later book, did not have a dramatic narrative 'hook' to build upon.

Instead what we have is a rambling journey through the life and times of a couple of 'babyboomers' from their university days through to the death of one of them This is exactly my era so , in theory, it should have appealed to me much more than it did.

Although none of the characters were either entirely plausible, the women came out as marginally more realistic than the men who were very weakly drawn and tended to be caricatures

Any attempt at any personal narrative or development is drowned out by the social history references which are mildly entertaining in providing background colour but there is no real insights or attempt at any real analysis as to their real impact or effect. on the world at large. not entirely certain that is entirely valid to gatuitously use events such as9/11 or 7/7 in this way.

at a lesser level, the number of times we were reminded that Clinton was an Oxford Rhodes scholar became quie tedious.

There could have been a good book here but afraid that it never emerged ouat of the mass of backgound detail of the times in which they lived and their own personal histories.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 January 2012
For me, this was an undemanding but pleasing read - a well-written book. I'd question what it would mean to someone who did not already know people like this and relate to their concerns to some degree.
And the ending is poorly crafted - if I were her editor I think I'd have advised her to cut down on the number of 'exits, stage left', which strained credibility too far.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 24 October 2011
This book clearly has its adherents, but I would have to say that I found this book a real struggle to get through. The tale of a family and their friends being students in the 1960s with hippy ideals (admittedly twenty years before I grew up, so maybe I would have identified with them more if I had been of that generation) and what happened to them subsequently, it failed at any stage to build up much narrative tension. I did not find the characters particularly interesting in that they failed to inspire positive or negative emotions, and the book made me care little what happened to them. There were some wry observations and the writing style was reasonably accomplished, but a lack of incisiveness, humour or anything much that really grabbed or surprised you was to my mind a large part of the book's downfall. Finally there was a wasted opportunity to explore any battle of conscience between the hippy ideals and the yuppie mindset that subsequently replaced it - that could have made me sit up and take notice. As it was, there simply wasn't much of a worthwhile story there, as far as I was concerned.
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on 5 July 2015
This is a very well crafted book which chronicles the lives of a family and associated friends in a well paced, plausible way. The harassers are well drawn and I particularly like the ways in which certain outside events are introduced without fanfare. But oh my dear! Would a Tavistock trained psychotherapist take her eat friends a client and insist that the friend do so as a condition of living in her house. Of course not, And would that therapist keep "session notes" when her father in law discloses a lifelong secret! Of course not! These two grossly implausible poetic licenses marred for me what is, otherwise, an excellent book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2011
We Had it So Good - Linda Grant

By Caroline Auckland [Free copy sent by Publisher]

Welcome to the fictional world of Linda Grant.
In her best novel yet, the reader is introduced to Stephen Newman, a Rhodes Scholar who travels across the Ocean with the future President- Bill Clinton to his own future and indeed his own past.

As each character is constructed and deconstructed, Grant envelopes the reader in a sensory journey of lifetimes. The fragrance of the 60's tumbles out of the pages, the patchouli oil, the Afghan waist coats smelling of goats, giving way to Roses, Geraniums , Chanel and Dior perfume of later family life and affairs.

The fur coats of Stephen's father-

'The heavy headless bodies in the darkness' become Grant's metaphors for the personas the characters wear as they develop. A dress describes a person. It can be thrown out of the window and that person can disappear.' Shoes bear the imprint of the foot and are practically part of the body'.

The reader grows old with the Characters.

Graces's potential aborted by her Father. His actions condeming her to a lifetime of searching the World only to return to the place She was trying to leave. To allow nature , which her Mother nutured to take over.

Andrea, through Psycotherapy gives neuroses and repressions room to be aired- but contains them under lock and key.

Stephen seems to be carried along by his belief:

'Nobody of his generation- was born to die, except by Accident.
Life was extraordinary, the only acceptable condition.
Life is my Birthright.'

His birthright he believes, comes from his and his known Father's past, but in his name-Newman, he is in fact a New Man , constructed not by his past, but his Father's attempt to have a fresh start.

You will need a notebook to hand. Grant delivers sentences that hit hard and deserve to be savoured. They belong to the Characters but have resonance in the wider World.

On the World War:

'That's what the War was like, full of What-Might-have Beens'

On Parents:

'They had turned themselves into walls and doors.
The doors had been carefully locked.'

On Family:

'A condition that everyone understands to be a lifelong prison from which there is no escape or parole.'

This is a novel of Youth, Innocence, Denial, love , loss and acceptance.

Read it, be moved and reflect.

It will take your breath away.
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on 13 January 2013
then this may be for you...really well written...echoes of my life, as someone who benefited from the amazing education available in the 50's and 60's...there's no doubt, we did have it so good...the book explores the huge and random influence of chance on our lives..and the gulfs between generations, brought about by chance and environment...looking for more Linda Grant now...excellent and thoughtful book
'I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both'
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 11 February 2011
We Had It So Good is the story of Stephen and his family. Born in America to a Cuban mother and Polish father, Stephen gains a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford in the 1960s. There he meets Grace, Andrea and Ivan and together they take a lot of drugs and talk about how they could change the world until Stephen is drafted by the American army to fight in Vietnam. In order to avoid what he sees as certain death, he marries Andrea and they move to a squat in London while Grace disappears to travel the world. As they grow up, settle down and have children, their concerns change and they become more and more detached from their idealistic younger selves.

Had this not been a book club pick I would almost certainly never have read it. Aging hippies becoming increasingly middle aged and middle class isnft really my thing, and I still think that after reading Grantfs book. Perhaps Ifm just too far removed from that time period and way of thinking (Ifm even younger than Stephen and Andreafs children in the novel) for it to have any resonance with me; Ifm sure this would be a far more interesting book for someone who had lived through the same experiences and developed in a similar way to the central characters. As it was, I found them to be intensely irritating, although I had flashes of sympathy for them from time to time, particularly in the way that Andreafs story was concluded. This might have been intentional, I donft know, but it didnft make the book a particularly enjoyable read for me.

Far more interesting, in my opinion, are the peripheral characters. I thought that Grant manages to inject really intriguing character traits into Max, Marianne and the various parents who appear throughout the book. All of them are distinct and different and I wish that more time had been given to them and to their concerns rather than to the ineffectual, dissatisfied Stephen and Andrea, although obviously these two represent the framework which holds all of the others together. I thought that Gracefs sections, while initially confusing (who is this disembodied first person narrator suddenly having a chapter? Why?) were effective and, once it was revealed why they were there, a clever way of weaving her own story into the main body of the novel and showing how everything was intertwined.

One thing that was a new experience for me with this book was reading about events that Ifve lived through. A quick glance at my book list will tell you that I donft read a lot of contemporary fiction, so it was a real change to read something that goes right up to the present day. I thought that Grant tackles this skilfully, allowing the reader to instantly recognise what is going on and which crucial world events have occurred without ever being obvious about it. September 11th, for example, is mentioned without the date or the words eWorld Trade Centref being used and yet it is abundantly clear what has just happened. Likewise with the July 7th bombings on the London Underground.

On the whole I found the writing in We Had It So Good to be effective and well thought out, even if the story wasnft exactly my cup of tea. There was, however, one stylistic device that I found incredibly annoying and that is the use of occasional chapters or sometimes just individual paragraphs in the present tense for no discernible reason. I could understand it (although I would still find it irritating) if the change in tense reflected a shift to more immediate concerns or continuous actions, but the present tense paragraphs seem to be largely random and have no particular significance. Ifm willing to concede that I missed something integral here, but nonetheless I found them jarring and wished that Grant had stuck to writing in one tense to show the present tense of the novel.

(I was sent a free copy of this book by the publishers)
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I really enjoyed this book, it was very funny, sad and thought provoking. It is the journey of a couple who meet at university in the 70s, Linda Grant really captures the decades well, you can feel yourself transported to those times. Added bonus for me is that the book is set in Islington, North London, if like me you have grown up or lived in this area it is even better. The characters are well depicted as are the relationships.
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on 15 January 2014
I have never felt so sorry to finish reading a book. I shan't bother to précis the story as others have done a very good job of doing so before me. So, briefly, I shall just praise Grant's impeccable character depictions and storytelling. As a baby boomer myself, but more of a country bumpkin, I can still identify with the desires and feelings of the characters. Straight on to the next Linda Grant novel for me .....
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 27 March 2011
We had it so good, is an engaging thought provoking read.
A beautiful read, that will have you thinking especially about your own parents long after you have finished reading.
Linda's writing is accessible yet very clever a delight from start to finish. I forgot to eat and sleep whilst reading this!
I will miss Si, Andrea, Stephen,Ivan and even Grace!
Grant has that rare gift of being a natural storyteller, a treasure.
I shall be buying this for friends and family all year.
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