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London Belongs to Me (Penguin Modern Classics)

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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. We are introduced to the lonely landlady, in whose house the main characters live, the ageing glamour girl with an eye to the main chance, and my favourite characters, Mr. 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).

The author is not as brilliant as George Orwell (my personal hero) but the writing style has some similarities. In 1948 it was made into a film with a cast of iconic British character actors, among them Alastair Sim, Joyce Carey, Fay Compton and Richard Attenborough. One of the great city novels: a sprawling celebration of the comedy, savagery, eccentricity and heroism .

He’s got his eye on Doris Josser, and when a friend offers him the opportunity to dabble in a little bit of car thievery on the side to make a tidy sum very quickly, Percy jumps at the chance. But somehow or other it remains London, with the buses that cruise up Park Lane twinkling through the railings, and the air filled with the roar and rustle of innumerable wheels. The independent-minded quarterly magazine that combines good looks, good writing and a personal approach. It begins in 1938, at Christmas, with the threat of war looming, and covers a two-year time-frame, ending at Christmas 1940, only a few months after the first London Blitz. Fleeing America after a devastating betrayal, she believes London is where she’ll be understood, where she belongs.

The most unconventional resident of all arrives in response to Mrs Vizzard’s newspaper advertisement, to take that empty room. The temporarily retired and permanently bemused Mr Josser (joss stick, old josser) ‘with a wisp of white hair . Even when inside on a murder charge, Percy is still dreaming of pulling off the big job that will allow him ‘one day (to) have my own racing team - Boon Specials’. There was also a six-part television series in 1977, again with a roster of the best of British, including a young Trevor Eve. However, the mirroring of wider concerns is perhaps more successfully pulled off in the case of Percy Boon than Mr Josser.

Here we have a huge, rambling, ramshackle t At its best the book is a directed but unforced tour of aspects of British – English – culture during wartime: a world of “chimney pots and telegraph wires”, of Bakelite and green baize, of séances and boxing matches (“The Tiger entered the ring in his celebrated striped dressing gown, allowed his seconds – two bullet-headed thugs like escaped convicts – to disrobe him as though he were too well-bred to do that kind of thing for himself, and stood there, like a cockerel, turning himself about for the people to admire him”), and of Lyons’ Corner Houses and miserable London weather, where “it was as though someone had deliberately smeared a wet dirty cloth across the sky”. However, life begins to change for the inhabitants of Dulcimer Street as Doris moves out, a mysterious Mr Squales moves into the spare room in Mrs Vizzard’s basement, Percy’s criminal doings catch up with him, and the war starts to become an ever likelier possibility. I recently started reading Jose Saramago’s “A Brief History of the Seige of Lisbon”, and I thought it was very fine, but reading his very long sentences, I got just too tired, so after 60 pages, I switched to Amelie Nothomb’s “Tokyo Fiancee” which is only 170 pages and full of short sentences.

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