Linda Grant – ‘Upstairs at the Party’, ‘A Stranger City’
‘We Had It So Good’ was so good. It was my introduction to the writing of Linda Grant. It was a portrait of the lives of UK baby-boomers I read at the turn of the decade. The novel convinced me that I’d always be reading her through the following years. The next book she authored that I picked up, ‘Still There’, was, well, not so good. It was a struggle. I made it through, expecting to be rewarded in the end. I wasn’t. So, I was put off.
When I spotted, a few years later, ‘Upstairs at the Party’ in a remainder bin for a couple of bucks, I thought I’d give her another shot. It sat on my ‘to read’ shelf for a few more years after purchase. Then there came the glowing review for her latest, ‘A Stranger City’. It seemed my cup of tea, but before I shelled out thirty plus dollars, remembering I had been burnt before, so to speak, I decided to tackle ‘Upstairs at the Party’, just to make sure. And you can probably guess the outcome of this little tale. It was excellent, so off I went to my favourite bookshop, duly bought the new one and settled in. It made a promising start. It seemed it had an interesting array of characters with the action, initially, zeroing in on those with a link to an unidentified body fished out of the Thames. How could nobody in the whole metropolis of London not miss this young woman who threw herself, it is suspected, off a bridge? The copper investigating the fatal incident had no leads and is troubled by that; a documentary film maker, who just happened to be producing a series on missing persons, included her story. Then there’s the nurse who was in the vicinity; she going on to disappear, as well, for a short time. She featured in the documentary as well, bringing her a modicum of fame. Yep, it seemed all set up for an engrossing read.
But then the author does a right turn into the world of immigrants to her city. Then followed by an imaging of London in decay, just a short time down the track post-Brexit. It seems as though Boris hasn’t been too successful in extracting the UK from Europe. It’s not a future I’d want to be involved in. Finally we reunite with the original cast, but by then it was too late for me. It’s all tied together, but even so, again I really struggled to complete the novel. Reviewer Jake Arnott, writing in the Guardian, describes this homage to an ever-evolving city, as being ‘…fractured and uncertain…’ as the huge metropolis it portrays, although his is a favourable report. Too fractured and uncertain for me, I’m afraid.
On the other hand, ‘Upstairs at the Party’ was the real page-turner. I relished it and raced through to the conclusion. It, claims Ms Grant, is partly autobiographical – and proves that she is an author certainly worth reading, with this or ‘We Had It So Good’ obvious starting points. Both books observes our generation looking back. In this case its back to a twenty-first birthday party where, upstairs, away from the action, a terrible event occurred for one of the guests. This morphed into a happening that changed lives. I was rapt in this more, to my mind, cogent work as secrets of the past are unravelled to allow us to see how the fortunes of a golden, gifted group of people play out.
But the quandary now is this. When the next Linda Grant comes out, will I chance her again?
The author’s website = https://www.lindagrant.co.uk/ =