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Review of Looking After Your Own, a novel by Evelyn Hood.
My local public library currently has a large quantity of family saga type novels, set in the Second World War on prominent display. Although this is not a genre of novel I have generally chosen previously, over the past few weeks I have read several from the display and on the whole, enjoyed them. 'Looking After Your Own' is from my latest batch of library books. I selected the book initially for the interesting synopsis on the rear, the novel sounded a promising read.
I am reviewing the book in paperback format, 352 pages Publisher: Time Warner Paperbacks; ISBN-10: 0751528854; jacket price £5.99.
Looking After Your Own is set in Paisley in 1941. The war is raging in Europe and life in the tenement block of 42 Glen Street has to go on regardless. The residents of the tenement are the central characters to the novel. Here we meet the McCosh family, part-time dance band musicians and their family, widowed nurse and mother, Mrs Megson, her grown up son, Dennis who plays the trumpet in the McCosh's band and her younger children. Dennis has given up his opportunity to go to university in order to take over the role of head of the household following his father's death. Dennis works as a fireman, following in his father's footsteps.
Sixteen year old Chloe McCosh is under the influence of a crush on eighteen year old Dennis Megson, an attraction which is not returned as Dennis views her as a child still. Chloe meets another young man, Charlie Hepburn and hopes that her blooming relationship with Charlie will make Dennis notice her and see her as a desirable young woman. Meanwhile, Dennis has problems of his own as he tries to guide his wayward, headstrong younger brother Ralph away from bad influences which threaten to ruin his young life.
Other characters include newly weds Cecelia and Fergus Goudie. Fergus is about to leave his new wife to return to the RAF. Cecelia is a shy person and as a childless, married woman, she will be expected to seek employment or be ordered to work in the munitions factory. She is unsure what she should do and this adds to her emotional turmoil.
George and Lena Fulton are another young couple about to be separated by the war, as George is about to leave to join the Army. Lena is expecting their first baby and is suffering severe misgivings about both the baby and her husband.
Another flat is occupied by Ellen and Donnie Borland, Ellen seems to be able to lay her hands on almost anything, from food to clothing and it from her oft repeated statement of 'looking after your own' that the book's title is coined. The Borland's home is filled with beautiful furniture and neighbours are full of gossip as to how they came by such possessions. The final resident of 42 Glen Street is an elderly lady known as Mrs Bell, Ellen Borland keeps an eye on Jessie Bell as she has known the old lady for many years, having trained under her in the clothing mill she used to work in.
The plot follows the lives of the residents of the tenement over the course of a few months. As the younger men get called up to join the forces, the ratio of men to women subtly alters, food rationing bites and air raids devastate the area, ordinary people are called upon to adapt and manage in whatever way they can. Mothers are forced to leave young children in the care of older siblings and return to work and those fathers in reserved occupations are spending their free time tending the former clothes drying area which has been dug over to produce vegetables for the residents.
As the plot progresses, the reader is taken through a very difficult and worrying period of British history, told from the viewpoint of ordinary people trying to get on with their everyday lives. The central characters all seem to have their secrets and these play a part in making a cracking plot to this novel. Just as you think you have unravelled the intricacies of a situation, the author throws in a new twist which keeps you on your toes!
~~*~~About the Author~~*~~
**'A former journalist, Evelyn Hood is best known for family sagas mainly set in her home town of Paisley (Renfrewshire) and on the Clyde Coast, although she is also the author of 'Forward by Degrees', a history of the University of Paisley. The history was commissioned to mark the University's centenary as a place of further education and was published in April 1997.
Evelyn has also published six one-act stage plays, a Scottish pantomime, a children's musical and a number of short stories and articles. Evelyn Hood now lives in West Kilbride, Ayrshire with her husband. They have two grown up sons.'
**My source for the above information was the author's website; http://www.evelynhood.co.uk
~~*~~Price and Availability~~*~~
As previously mentioned, the copy I read is a library book, with a cover price of £5.99.
The novel can be obtained from various on line retailers at wildly differing prices, for example www.amazon.co.uk are offering the book at 0.01p used, yet www.whsmith.com have the novel listed for sale at £18.99!
~~*~~My Thoughts and Conclusion~~*~~
I had never read an Evelyn Hood novel therefore I had no expectations when I chose this book at the library. The synopsis on the jacket made the novel seem very readable and caught my interest, possibly the best reason for choosing a book!
The novel is very well written, it has strong, believable characters with richly diverse personalities. The author writes with great understanding and feeling for the area of Paisley where the novel is set. She writes in a good descriptive fashion and in 'Looking After Your Own', she has crafted a memorable and eminently readable novel of everyday Scots in wartime.
The language used throughout the novel is in keeping with the period the book is set in, an era when men swore amongst themselves, but not at home or in front of children, so there is no strong language within this novel. The plot contains many sub-plots and twists to keep the readers interest, the ending is a surprise, one that I wasn't expecting!
The subject matter of the novel has obviously been well researched, the experiences of one character who begins work as a 'clippie' (bus conductress) are humorous, yet I am sure, very true to life at the time.
To conclude, I enjoyed this novel very much and I am definitely going to look out for other Evelyn Hood novels from now on, and if Looking After Your Own is anything to judge by, I am sure they will be just as entertaining!
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 February 2010
N.B. My reviews may be found on other review sites under the same user name.