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Customer reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
London Belongs to Me (Penguin Modern Classics)
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on 8 June 2015
Norman Collins, writer, sometime publisher with Gollancz, creator of the Left Book Club series of books and was later in charge of BBC Radio's Light Programme. Later still, he was controller of television, when we only had the BBC. A single television channel. And even later, he helped form the Independent Television Authority.

In other words, this was a rather busy man, who nevertheless wrote 16 novels and 2 plays.

This particular novel, published in 1945, and starting during the phony peace, but with the potential for war as an undercurrent, and ending during the Blitz, is a veritable house brick at well over 700 pages, and in fairly small print too. Though it fairly whirls absorbingly along, with a terrific mix of memorable, believable `characters' - all pretty well ordinary working class Londoners. There is crime, - a central crime, and we know who did it, - there are romances, some of which are doomed to fail, others of which are more hopeful - there is seediness, there is deception, class-consciousness, socialism and fascism on the streets, penury, near-penury, greed - and oodles of affection for London itself, for ordinary people living ordinary lives, and displaying all the wonderful combination of nobility, generosity and mean-mindedness which we all do, all-mashed up together.

Collins takes a Kennington House, 10 Dulcimer Street, whose widowed owner lets out rooms. Under the one roof are the Jossers - an clerk on the verge of retirement, his wife and their office worker daughter. There is an ageing ex-`actress' now a cloakroom attendant at a seedy club, there is a devout widow and her grown-up motor mechanic son, with impossible aspirational dreams. There is an overweight man, moving from unskilled job to unskilled job, with adenoids and an obsession with food. There is the money counting, terrified of poverty landlady, inhabiting the meanest room in the house so she can let the rest And there is also another room to let, waiting on a new tenant .............

Out of this motley crew of characters Collins weaves a satisfying, well crafted, most enjoyable tale.

This is my version of a cracking good read. Lots of wonderful humour, sharp observation - the reader rather knows from the off that there is a warmth and kindness, a wit and tenderness, - `a right rollicking good read'

I've come to this reasonably hot on the heels of reading or re-reading Patrick Hamilton. It is another of the titles which Penguin re-released in their `Modern Classics' within the last decade, many of them, like this, wonderfully well written `minor classics' which sounds derogatory, but is kind of accurate. Collins in certainly not an Orwell, not a Graham Greene - but this is also miles away from disposable, forgettable, fiction
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on 5 August 2017
An excellent read if you're going to read any Norman Collins then this should be the one you start with.
Good plot line believable characters.
All in all a marvelous book
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on 26 August 2014
Loved this book. It's what the old film of the same name is based on, but goes on much further and in far more detail. Alastair Sim played the clairvoyant in the film and I had him in my mind all the time I was reading this marvellous book. His laconic Italian unctuousness was spot on. The character is definitely not respectable and you can see how exotic he would appear in pre-war London.

During WWII, my parents-in-law were bombed out of their London home three times. They used to turn up on doorsteps behind a pile of suitcases with a trailing child (my future husband), seeking shelter with various friends and relatives. London was lit up like a firework show during the Battle of Britain.

This book leads you up to Britain's engagement in the war and is interesting from the point of view of how ordinary Londoners felt about events taking them to that place; how they reacted to war news, to the strictures of rationing, to the nightly fires from bombing raids, factory work, the sheer stress of it all. You feel their resigned stoicism in the face of conflict. These diversely ordinary people living at the same address, the other people whose lives they touch, all with their different desires and motives, It's a terrific read for an historical novel.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 June 2012
I'd just finished reading five novels by Patrick Hamilton (Hangover Square, The Slaves Of Solitude, and the Gorse Trilogy); a biography of Patrick Hamilton Through a Glass Darkly: The Life of Patrick Hamilton; and a biography of Julian MacLaren-Ross Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia: The Bizarre Life of Julian Maclaren-Ross. Reading these books helped me to realise how much I enjoy books about London. Coincidentally Amazon recommended this book to me (and it was a book that I'd not heard of until the recommendation).

Over 700 pages long, London is unquestionably the star of the book. More specifically South London for the inhabitants of a shared house located at 10 Dulcimer Street in Kennington. The book is set in 1939-40 and evokes the era wonderfully. The second world war looms as each of the varied and memorable characters contend with their own lives and preoccupations. Their stories are variously funny, tragic, exciting, interesting, and the interweaving narratives kept me engrossed throughout.

If you enjoy well written stories about London, about Britain in the 1940s, and the vagaries of human nature, then it's hard to imagine you wouldn't enjoy this book. By the end I felt the characters were old friends and I wanted to continue to read about their lives. In a nutshell, I loved it and didn't want it to end.
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VINE VOICEon 14 March 2016
For years I was under the impression that this was one of those 'never mind the quality, feel the width' old potboilers, well past their read-by date, so the actual novel came as a pleasant surprise. It isn't a masterpiece, but the sum is greater than some of its parts and anyone who has enjoyed The Forsyte Sage or Of Human Bondage should respond to this vivid panorama of London on the cusp of the Second World War. The recommendation from Sarah Walters should also sway some readers who might not think it's their cup of tea.
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on 19 September 2009
As another reviewer remarked elsewhere, even though this book is over 700 pages I never wanted it to finish. As I said when I passed it on to my sister (with the proviso she keeps it for me when she finishes it!) I kept wondering just what happened to the characters created by Norman Collins when the book eventually closes.

Truly fascinating characters, and their lives, keep this novel running at a good pace, though quite often I found myself going back for a re-read of some parts because they were so involving of the reader's thoughts it felt necessary to pause and take stock. A bit of a Dickens feeling runs right through the whole book.

I'll be reading it again one day and meantime have also enjoyed "Bond Street Story" by the same author, which is of the very same high quality writing, and am now half way through "Children Of The Archbishop". The last is not - so far - quite as good as Mr. Collins other works I've read, but maybe it was one of his earlier works? (It's still much more readable than a lot of stuff that tries to pass itself off as a "novel" today.)
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on 12 December 2017
First read this 60 years ago. Having lived in Oval Way. Kennington until I was 4 years old I can relate to Dulcimer St. The characters all come alive. The good, the bad, the selfish are vividly portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it again. Londoners' of my generation will love it.
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on 22 August 2011
I purchased this because I collect books whether fictional or non-fictional about London.

I'd heard about this author and while I knew it wasn't in the so-called canon of mid-20th century literary masterpices, I thought it would be interesting. And so it was.

It worked for me on two levels, following the tenants and their stories in a south London house from the mid-1930's through to the war years. This was thankfully done without sentimentality. The other level that interested me was the London of tea-shops like the Lyons ones (they often crop up in memoirs), flashy cinemas and the mushrooming outer suburbs with their mock-Tudor pubs.

Quite a lengthy novel but a good read.
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on 23 December 2013
I picked this up on a whim as I hadn't heard of it before but it looked promising. I'm really glad I did as it's one of the best things I've read in a long time. The characters are brilliant and the story really sums up the London of that era. Quite often I found myself laughing out loud. Best characters are Enrico Qualito (aka Mr Squales) and the plodding Mr Puddy. I can't understand why this book isn't more well known. An absolute classic in dark humour. Don't let the fact it is 700 pages long put you off.
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on 7 December 2013
Interesting characters living together in an old and rather faded London house. Quite engaging and the story was made into a film years ago. But there's not that much about London as such if that's what the title might lead you to expect - it's just where the characters happen to be. Flawed, but generally a thumbs up.
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