10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Thought-provoking and nostalgic,
This review is from: We Had It So Good (Paperback)Stephen Newman is getting older and is finding it difficult to come to terms with the way his life has turned out. What happened to his hopes and ambitions, to the generation that was going to change the world?
We Had It So Good follows the story of Stephen and his family over several decades during the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. At times reading this book was almost like watching one of those nostalgic television documentaries that show us snapshots of life in previous decades. As the years go by we see how Stephen and Andrea change over time and have had to abandon some of their dreams - but with Stephen in particular there's always that feeling of regret, that he's settled for second-best, and he does at one point decide that "that was what life was, perennially settling for less".
The book doesn't have much of a plot, concentrating instead on painting a detailed and realistic portrait of the Newman family. Despite the lack of action though, there are still some moments of drama - mainly the types of small dramas that most people will experience in their lifetime - and there were even a few surprises and revelations that I didn't see coming.
Linda Grant's writing is of a high quality and she develops her characters in great detail from their appearance and the clothes they wear, to their likes and dislikes, hopes and fears. And yet throughout the first half of the book I didn't feel any personal involvement in their story and always felt slightly detached from what was going on. Although the Newmans and their friends felt believable and real to me, I didn't think I liked them enough to want to spend 340 pages reading about their everyday lives. But halfway through the book I started to warm to some of the characters and as a result, the story became more compelling. And once I had settled into the pace of the writing, I started to enjoy it.
It was interesting to see how Stephen as an American (with a Polish immigrant father and a Cuban mother) adapted to life in England, first at Oxford and then in London. I also liked reading about the relationship between Stephen and his father, Si. Stephen and Andrea's daughter, Marianne, is another intriguing character. And this review wouldn't be complete without mentioning Andrea's best friend, Grace, who is quite a sad and solitary figure, trying to run away from her past. Although she's not the most pleasant of people, with a hard, prickly personality, I was far more interested in Grace than in the Newmans.
I should point out that I'm probably not really the target audience for this book and although I did end up enjoying it, I can see that it would probably be appreciated more by readers of Stephen and Andrea's generation. However, the book still left me with a lot of things to think about, from bigger issues such as immigration, family relationships and generational differences to the smaller ones, such as the principles behind the advertising of washing powder!