6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Hand Me Down World is a fascinating story about one woman's journey in search of a future for herself and then for her child. It is told from a number of different perspectives so that the story unfolds a bit like an artichoke: you enjoy savouring a taste of each leaf and then you reach the heart. It underlines the known truth that everyone has their own perspective and interpretation of events: by the end of the novel you realise that all is not necessarily as it seems. The prose is quite matter of fact and staccato, reflecting the character of the woman we know as Ines, who is able to suspend her emotions and blank her mind to achieve her ultimate goals. There is an allusion late in the book to Asperger traits.
Some horrible things happen to Ines, but as she says herself in the novel, she meets more kindness than cruelty. It is difficult to say more without giving away some of the secrets that are gradually unpeeled in this novel. I really enjoyed it, and I will never see hotel staff in the same light again.... I now look forward to reading some of Lloyd Jones's previous novels.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 9 November 2010
I've never read a Lloyd Jones book and started to read Hand Me Down World about the same time as I heard an interview with him on Radio Four's Front Row. It was interesting to hear him talk about his approach to telling the story of Ines (as we know her) through the eyes of others whom she meets on her journey. I've never read a book like this before.
The story essentially revolves around a hotel maid/supervisor who is working at an upmarket hotel in Tunisia when she's swept off her feet in love with a German tourist. She soon becomes pregnant and living in a bubble of happiness, does not foresee she's been used and that her baby will be 'taken from her breast' and trafficked back to Europe. So her journey begins as an illegal immigrant, firstly landing in Sicily and takes her up to Berlin where she seeks her baby. What her plans are after she locates him she does not know.
Her journey up through Europe is recounted by the people whom she meets, who she sometimes steals from, hitchhikes with, who beat her, pity her, give her kindness and money. These are eyes that we are forced to see Ines through whether we like the storyteller or not. Their versions of the 'truth' to who they see Ines as are sometimes, uncomfortable, grotesque and occasionally heart warming. Ines could be as faceless and separate as any of the migrants we read about and this approach challenges the reader to review their own attitude to the character.
The majority of Ines's story is told from the perspective of Defoe (as he is known; no one can ever quite be trusted) who observes Ines during her employment as a carer for a blind man in Berlin. He sees a remote woman with the private motivations which he experiences alongside the emotional and selfish entanglement he finds himself in between her and her employer.
It's not until the final section of the book that we hear from Ines. The reader has been backed into a corner full of dispassion and shock at her actions because her motives and emotions are hidden from those she interacts with. So when Ines finally tells her story, from the moment she leaves Tunisia, the reader feels the jigsaw starting to fit together to conjure a narrative far richer and emotionally conflicting than is comfortable. The end was quite gentle, really moving yet credible so the story felt like it had a future beyond the Jones' narrative.
Hand Me Down World is a book which will stay with me for some time. Snatches of the narrative require more thought than books usually garner, so easily closed and forgotten when you reach the end. Jones is a story teller of great skill; I'll be looking out for more of his award winning writing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This was a book that difinitely came into its own in the second half. From that point on, the characters started to develop and I became more involved with the narrative. The last section, where we finally hear from the central character, 'the woman' referred to on the back cover, was excellent, but for me, the book had dropped to four stars before then.
The snapshot chapters we read at the beginning are, in fact, witness statements, given to an inspector who is following in the footsteps of 'Ines' (the woman), as she journeys from a hotel in Tunisia, via an Itallian beach, to Berlin, in search of her son. Unfortunately these statements were rather shallow and I struggled to recall them when I needed to refer back to them to corroborate Ines's story.
She actually came across a fair amount of kindness on her journey, and some inevitable cruelty too, but without knowing her character at that time, it was hard to feel emotional.
I was also a bit surprised at the mix of languages spoken and the number of people who were choosing to speak English, in spite of the fact that most of the action took place in Italy and Germany, that didn't quite ring true for me.
The ending was satisfying, in an unsatisfactory sort of way, believable anyway.
I haven't read anything else by Lloyd Jones, but I do like that he is obviously experimenting with his book construction and I would certainly give him another go. Even if it has flaws, it's always a breath of fresh air to read something a bit different.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A woman in Africa gives birth to a baby boy, who is then taken from her by its German father. She is determined to find her son, and this kicks off a journey which takes her to Italy, initially on a small boat and then swimming the rest of the way. She makes her way up from the bottom of Italy, reliant on strangers to help her along the way, but concealing from them the truth about who she is and what she wants. Finally she arrives in Berlin, and sets about trying to find a way to connect with her son.
In the first half of this book "Ines" remains an enigma. Her story is told entirely through the eyes of those that she has encountered along the way. Each of their stories carries their own personal slant and gradually we realise that the "truth" lies somewhere between the lines rather than on them. In the second half of the book Ines picks up the narrative and we see the same story again but from her point of view. It's a clever device but it has the drawback that we never really feel close to Ines - she holds us at arm's length as she does so many others. At the end of the day, is her narrative any more reliable than any of the others that we have read?
The other central problem I had with the story was the idea that a mother's love was strong enough to compel Ines to make the journey and the choices that she did, but not enough for her to formulate a better plan for reuniting herself with her son. Possibly this was an unselfish choice that she made, but if so, I would have liked more insight into her thought process.
It's a very well written and absorbing book, but at the end of the day it's also curiously cold.
If you enjoyed this, I'd recommend another book which also sheds light on the experience of desperate foreigners coming to Europe, The Road Home.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2010
Hand Me Down World is the story of one woman's journey to find her child, as glimpsed by the people she meets along the way. "Her story is in the hands of others" as the author himself has put it. A truck driver, a chess player, an alpine guide, a poet-thief, a film researcher, a blind man - otherwise unconnected lives linked by the thread of one woman's journey. Determined to be reunited with her son, who has been taken to Berlin by his German father, she leaves her job as a maid in a Tunisian hotel and travels across Europe as an illegal immigrant.
I found it to be quite a far-fetched tale in every sense - at one point, for example, she appears to be trying to cross the alps on foot. Also, the narration style never changes, so the voices of the characters are not distinct - although their view of the events they describe certainly is.
Only in the final part of the book do we get to hear her version of the story and see her perspective on the events previously described by those other characters. Was their testimony the truth? The whole truth? How can we ever know what the whole truth is? And how much truth can we handle anyway?
This is a book full of questions. "What are we supposed to see? What is it we are supposed to think?" the blind man asks regarding a disturbing photograph found in his late father's wardrobe. What indeed. Perhaps, as the woman herself observes: "the only way to get through where we are from one day to the next is to think of where we are as a better place."
At its heart this is a story of the quiet determination of a mother to go anywhere and do anything to be with her child, so Hand Me Down World may resonate more with women readers than men, but will doubtless give reading groups plenty to talk about. I'd like to suggest that such groups also consider reading A Seventh Man - John Berger and Jean Mohr's recently re-published book about migrant workers - as a companion piece.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Tricked into giving her baby away by her German lover, "Ines" travels from the Tunisian coast to Berlin, in order to be reunited with her child. She will do anything and endure anything to be with him.
This is an unusual story in that we never really know anything about the main character, even the name we come to know her as is not her own, and neither is her story really - told from the perspective of the many people she comes into contact with their stories tell the reader more about themselves than they do about Ines. It is only in the final stages of the book that Ines is allowed to have a voice and that we begin to understand her actions and are able to get a glimpse of the hardships she has had to endure.
This is a very cleverly written book. The use of different characters to tell Ines' story gives the reader many different versions of her, and we never really know which, if any, are the real person. I found my opinion of Ines was constantly being reviewed with each new bit of information that was revealed, but I enjoyed that about it. Even though this should have been quite a depressing story the author manages to make it quite uplifting in that despite what happens to Ines, there are still people in the story who show her great kindness and the end of the story offers new hope to Ines from a very unlikely source.
Highly enjoyable, thought provoking and well worth a read.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I thought I was going to really enjoy this book. I loved Mr Pip, and the blurb for this one sounded intriguing. The structure is ambitious and original, consisting of a series of witness statements about the main protagonist "Ines" as she travels from Tunisia to Berlin in search of her son, followed by her side of the story, which doesn't always tie in with the other accounts. However, I felt there was something hollow about the book. The structure, although unusual, didn't work for me - I found it too disjointed having one character tell their events, then another, while never really fully engaging with "Ines" herself. I almost stopped reading by page 100 - I felt bored by this stream of characters by that point, and it was only the fact that I'd read so many rave reviews about the book here and in the press that made me persevere.
One huge problem for me was that I didn't fully believe in Ines either - for someone who was so desperate to find her son that she'd make this incredible journey constantly putting herself in danger, she came across as remarkably dispassionate. [*spoiler alert*] I don't think she'd have been quite so docile and complicit when it came to arrangements with Jermayne. I think she would have bothered learning more German so that she could communicate with her son and, without wanting to give too much away, I didn't quite buy the fact that after having gone through so much to track him down, she didn't find a way to snatch him and take him back.
This is not a book I'd go out of my way to recommend, but plenty of other people seem to have loved it and indeed, there were moments where I was gripped - the set-up with Jermayne for example is well executed, and the description of Ines making the boat trip and her journey ashore is visual and vivid. Ultimately though, for me, it lacked warmth, it lacked humour and it lacked credibility in places.
on 19 May 2015
This is one in a series of novels I’ve been reading from Commonwealth authors set in various places around the world.
The writing style snagged me immediately. Uncommonly, the first two-thirds of the story shows us the protagonist ‘Ines’ not from her perspective, but from that of all the people she encounters on her journey. Also unusually, there’s no dialogue. Never thought I could enjoy fiction told only in narrative, but it worked here for me. In the last one-third of the book the story is retold by Ines. This is where I felt slightly let down. I expected something more, something new from her POV, and it wasn’t there. The retelling wasn’t sufficiently different enough from the first telling. Also, the early part of the book had an engaging quality which diminished somewhat in the latter part. Still worthy of four stars, however.
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
Ines was an interesting character to me largely because of my failure to understand her. After taking the extreme measures she did to find her son, she neglected to acknowledge the obvious: that without seeking help, her situation would remain an impossible one.
The waning of some of my sympathy for her began when it became apparent she was less interested in getting practical help than in stealing and using men ... neither behaviour which she must have realised could go on indefinitely or lead to any good. Her failure to recognise the pointlessness of living only for the next time she could see her son was where I struggled most to understand her. I think I was expecting to see a mother inspired by love for her child, and instead saw a woman disabled by motherhood. On the other hand, I can see why it might be hard to ask for help when you’re an illegal. Nevertheless, her failure to even try, stumped me, as did her failure to take advantage of offers of help made freely, such as Defoe’s numerous attempts to help her constructively. Nevertheless, that didn’t make the story weak. It was probably quite realistic actually, as was the ending.
on 20 July 2012
I did like reading 'Hand Me Down World' by Lloyd Jones. The story-telling device through the narrative recounts of those who had known and interacted with 'Ines' - the main character in this novel - was an intriguing pull for me. I liked the differing perspectives on Ines, her ways, her mannerisms and her actions as viewed through the eyes and hearts of others. What comes through is a fractured view of a woman whose 'real identity' (if there is such a term), despite her having a full section devoted to her account of events in the book, still seems somewhat kaleidoscopic, murky and at times contradictory. Some reviewers have commented that they still feel like they never got to know the real Ines and felt that she still held us (the readers) at arm's length and you never really got to know her. I must agree that 'yes' she does keep us at arms' length but rather than bemoan this, I must say that I found it somewhat refreshing to 'know' a character without 'knowing' their full thoughts and motives in their entirety. Can we really 'know' someone in full? Even our best friends do not show all sides of themselves to us at times? Do books that offer that luxury of 'knowing' a character and warming to them merely just a part of the 'cult of character comfortability' which makes us feel good.
Jones' novel pushes away that air of character comfortability and challenges readers to engage with literary characters in a different way to that which they (me included) may be accustomed to.
Pick this book up. A recommended read.
This is the story of a women known to the reader as Ines. Ines makes a long, hard, and often dangerous journey from Africa to Europe in search of a child.
'Hand Me Down World' is actually one story, told twice. The first half of the book is narrated by the people who Ines meets during her journey. From the truck driver who gives her a lift to the blind man who used her as his eyes. Ines is 'handed down' from person to person - slowly making her way to her destination, with the determination that only a mother separated from her child can have. Ines is used by people, but she is also a user, she will stop at nothing to reach her goal.
In the second half of the book, the exact same story is told again, this time narrated by Ines herself. It is clear that there are some unreliable narrators in this book as the stories vary so much. Each narrator portrays themselves as wholesome and good, only interested in Ines' welfare, yet it is clear that Ines sees the events so differently to the earlier narrators - but whose is the true story? Maybe both of them are true? It's about perception - about understanding how badly Ines wants to get to Berlin - understanding why.
I will be honest and admit that during the first couple of chapters of Hand Me Down World I struggled. I struggled with the unusual narration, the fact that at that time the reader did not know who or what Ines really was. It is a unique and intriguing way of telling a story and once I became used to this quirk I became entranced by the story and the writing.
Each narrator has their own style, this in itself shows how talented an author Lloyd Jones is. As Ines travels through Europe, each country, each place is described wonderfully.
It's a kind of 'lonely' story. Ines is essentially a lonesome person, despite the fact that she meets many people on her journey, she never opens up to them, or reveals her real self. It is only towards the end of the story that the reader is allowed to enter into her world and some of her emotions and feelings are exposed.
The book blurb says 'this is a novel you cannot stop thinking about', and I would agree. It's the kind of book that takes you way past bed-time, that makes you want to read 'just one more page'. There is a certain air of mystery about it.
Essentially the story of the love of a mother, but also an exploration of different characters and how one story can be re-told in so many ways.
Heart-breaking in parts, often beautiful and quite inspiring.