I found this story engaging initially as we see Lev, an unemployed 42-year-old widowed father, leave his economically dying village in Eastern Europe and travel to London in hopes of finding work as a migrant labourer, only to suffer loneliness and a sense of isolation. But then as his life turns for the better the story falls down badly and one feels very much as if Tremain lost her way while writing it, then resorted to a predictably feeble formula of ups and downs in Lev's fortunes to carry her through.
A novel needn't plumb the depths of the human psyche to make good reading, but this one disappointed me for how one-dimensional the people around Lev seemed. Even the two he got closest to in his new life, Christy the drunken Irishman and Sophie the sous-chef nymphette, felt like timeworn caricatures rather than real people, along with his vodka-swigging friend Rudi back home. Lev's only interesting relationship was with Lydia. Exclude her, and he had no meaningful conversations with anyone in the entire story. I'm aware that poverty still exists in parts of rural Eastern Europe, but its portrayal here struck me as pure invention on the author's part.
Though this novel failed to reach any heights or depths in either content or prose, and the good fortune and opportunities that suddenly befell Lev were improbable, I did feel for him and enjoyed moments of his journey.
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