The Road HomeSeptember 2014

Lev is a legal economic migrant travelling from an unspecified East European homeland to find work in England, having left his young daughter and his mother behind. Beside him on the bus, a plump woman ‘with moles like splashes of mud on her face’ (so no incipient romance there, then) helps him with basic English phrases and offers him hard-boiled eggs and dried fruit and pieces of chocolate; Lev offers her, and incidentally us, the readers of this novel, pieces of information about himself, about the death from cancer of his wife and about his friend Rudi and the old Chevrolet which Rudi had managed to buy. As they say goodbye at Victoria Coach Station, we are left in little doubt that Lev will need further assistance from Lydia before long.

And so it proves to be, but not before Lev has discovered how woefully inadequately he is prepared for life in London and how little his pathetic savings will buy. He is helped by a kindly Muslim who pays him a few pounds to deliver leaflets about his Kebab House and gives him a free meal. But he has to sleep in the entrance to an empty basement flat. Unsurprisingly, it is not long before he decides to phone Lydia. And from that moment his luck changes, because Lydia helps him to find accommodation with an Irishman who becomes his good friend, and a job as the kitchen porter at a trendy restaurant.

Most of us were fans of Rose Tremain’s Restoration which we read some months ago, and so we looked forward to her gritty evocation of 21st century Britain with its multi-faceted mix of ethnicity and class, its obsessions and taboos, all seen through the eyes of an outsider; for most of the group The Road Home lived up to expectations, and Lev was considered a memorable, delightful character. For this reader, however, the novel was peopled with rather too many caricatures, the plot somewhat clunky, and Lev too flawed a personality to engage my sympathy. His unfeeling treatment of Lydia (how relieved I was when she refused to negotiate a loan of ten thousand pounds and subsequently cut off all further communication), his revolting method of getting even with Sophie the sexy sous-chef for ending their relationship, all left a bad taste in the mouth – along with the swilled vodka and the stench of tobacco. But Rose Tremain can write like an angel and that largely made up for these reservations.

Our next book is Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and we meet on Thursday, 16th October to discuss it.

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