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The Reinvention of Ivy Brown: A Novel Paperback – 1 Sep 2009
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"'A lovely book... [Roberta Taylor] is such a good writer... so original and different from other people, so outspoken and yet so warm.' Jilly Cooper * 'What a fabulous book! The early sixties period is wonderfully evoked, while the atmosphere of foreboding makes it a gripping page turner. Find a cosy place and settle in for a great read.' Imelda Staunton"
Roberta Taylor's memoir Too Many Mothers sold over 250,000 copies. Her gripping first novel, now available in paperback, is a tale of love and betrayal set in the freezing winter of London in 1963.
'A lovely book... [Roberta Taylor] is such a good writer... so original and different from other people, so outspoken and yet so warm.' Jilly CooperSee all Product description
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The story is centred around a building in early 60s London which is home to various businesses. It is the coldest winter in years in London. There are 3 women who are the main characters in the story. All of them work in this building and all of them are unknowingly linked to the same man who also works there. We meet the Ivy of the title, a bitter woman who is a typist, Janet a young, awkward post girl of strict upbringing and Eileen, an older tea lady who lives with her parents and is hiding a secret. The young man who brings them all together is Arthur, a handsome jack the lad who works for the printers.
Over the chapters we get to know the characters until slowly everything builds to a dramatic ending.
The book is very descriptive of the surroundings and I found myself being drawn into 60s London at a time of bad weather, protest marches, young student beatniks and typing pool dramas.
In summary I enjoyed the book very much and it was an easy read but I did feel that it had a quick ending after a long build up. I found it slightly confusing in that the description on the book seemed to centre around Ivy and how she tried to uncover secrets from Arthur. However, it was as much about the other characters as it was about her and indeed they got as much book space as she did. I also wasn't quite clear what Ivy did in the end and wasn't sure about her 'Re-Invention'.
It would not be fair to potential readers to go into very much detail about the plot: this is one of those stories that has been pared down to such a degree that there isn't much room for generalities. But, at its basic level, the story follows three women, including the title character, who are smitten by the slightly roguish Brian. The bulk of the story takes place in London in the early part of 1963 - on the cusp of becoming swinging. The author superbly describes the time. The excruciatingly cold winter, the traditional sense of morality about to be pierced with familial bonds crumbling, and the workplace practices in the pre-computer age are all beautifully evoked.
As I mentioned earlier, I think this novel is too short to accommodate its story. This is apparent in the merry-go-round of brief chapters detailing the lead characters' lives. The overall story becomes fragmented as one fleeting chapter follows another with each character getting too little attention for the reader to get sufficiently close to them. Although the major part of the novel takes place in a relatively short period of time (locations and dates head each chapter), some of the characters' motivations seem spurious given the small amount that we already know about them.
This is a novel that would probably stand up to repeated reading. I'm sure there are several nuances and intricacies that I probably missed first time around. The author's descriptive prose is particularly striking. And some of the incidental characters give added colour to the proceedings. I particularly enjoyed the salacious Tony, an Italian newsagent whose accented version of laddish patter is nicely comic.
But I soon got into a muddle with the number of characters and their various stories: some of the characters seemed too vaguely drawn, and some seemed utterly unreal. I ended up not caring much about any of them. The sixties were a time when women were often not treated well, and this is certainly the case with the rather depressing Ivy and her very one-sided relationship...
It was suggested on the cover that it read like a soap opera, and I'm inclined to agree - but it didn't work for me as a book. I would almost have needed to make notes to keep tabs on all the people and places and their stories. There are a number of secrets to unlock and the clues are cleverly scattered around the chapters - but maybe I'm a bit slow because I missed a lot of them and only `got' them in retrospect.
Maybe this book should have been longer - and then more depth could have gone into the plot and the characters. It felt too ambitious and therefore a bit flat. Towards the end, it also felt a bit rushed - which again, left me feeling that the author might have done better to write a longer book.
So, interesting from the nostalgia pint of view, but otherwise, not a book that really grabbed my attention.
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It was predictable.