Review of Tiger Bay Blues, a novel by Catrin Collier.
I am reviewing the paperback version of this novel, 496 pages, ISBN 0752881221, published by Orion, cover price £6.99.
I find that I am reading a great deal lately, due to circumstances at home being a little fraught these days. I am caring for my mother following her recent fall, I find I have to be indoors with her, yet have time on my hands, so reading is an excellent way to pass the time. I chose this novel on a recent visit to my local public library, as the synopsis read rather well and the novel sounded worth a try.
Set in Pontypridd in 1930, Tiger Bay Blues follows the life of Edyth Evans. Edyth is the 18 year old daughter of socialist M.P. Lloyd Evans and his wife, Sali. She is the 'plain, intelligent' one and has a bright future ahead of her as she has gained a place at teacher training college.
The Evans have a large family of five daughters and several sons. Edyth is the second eldest girl. At the wedding of Edyth's older sister, Edyth meets the Reverend Peter Slater, a new curate to Pontypridd. She finds him attentive, good natured and although some ten years older than herself, Edyth decides that he is the sort of man she wants to marry.
At the wedding reception, Edyth and Peter spend all evening together dancing to the Bute Street Blues Band, a blues and jazz band who have been hired from the Tiger Bay district of Cardiff. A frightening event befalls Judy, the young female singer from the band during the course of the evening and Edyth's family feel honour bound to recompense the girl for her ordeal.
The plot moves on as Edyth and Peter's relationship develops and Edyth's father opposes their friendship vehemently. Lloyd Evans is adamant that his daughter will complete her education before committing to marriage and insists that although the couple may see one another, no marriage will take place until Edyth has qualified as a teacher. Peter is moved from the Pontypridd parish to take over a run down church and vicarage in Butetown, Cardiff, however the placement is dependant on him being a married man. Edyth takes matters into her own hands with disastrous results. On the day that she is taken to her new college by her parents, she waits until they leave her and she goes to Cardiff. Arriving late at night, she finds herself facing danger and trouble of the worst possible kind.
When finally she meets up with Peter, they confront her parents and grudgingly permission is given for them to marry. Edyth takes up her position as a vicar's wife in the docklands of Butetown amid the poverty and diverse cultures of the area. She has had an unusual upbringing by her Socialist father and is horrified at the racial inequalities and lack of regard for human life she sees on a day to day basis. When Peter's widowed mother descends upon the newly weds and moves into their house, Edyth has to fight to retain her place as mistress of her own home as the older women tries to usurp her role.
As the plot deepens, Edyth soon finds out just why her parents were so against her marriage to Peter Slater, she learns of the dark secrets that threaten to destroy her marriage, her reputation and that of her husband and his family. It is only by dint of her strong personality and her enduring friendship with Judy, the singer from the blues band, that Edyth copes.
The outcome of the plot is not at first how I had assumed the story would go and the novel surprised me in the way the saga ended. I will not reveal any more here for fear of spoiling the book for others. I will say however that the plot is a rather clever one in as much as the author has explored some many subjects that would have been taboo in much of England during the 1930's, mixed race marriages, prostitution, unmarried mothers, Socialism and homosexuality, are all woven into this novel with convincing reality.
~~*~~About the Author~~*~~
Catrin Collier was born and brought up in Pontypridd. Ms Collier has written from a very early age, she attended grammar school in her native Wales, where she was told that 'people like her' did not become writers! She trained for a career in teaching and social work.
She worked for a while in Europe and America before returning to her native Wales. She now lives on the Gower Peninsula near Swansea, with her family.
Catrin Collier also writes crime fiction as 'Katherine John' and has also written a series of more raunchy novels set amid a fictitious yachting fraternity under the pen name 'Caro French'.
A full bibliography can be found on her website www.catrincollier.co.uk
~~*~~My Thoughts and Conclusions~~*~~
I found this a highly readable, enjoyable novel. The characters are well rounded and the plot is very well crafted. The backdrop of poverty, slum dwellings, unemployment and social unrest of the 1930's make the plot interestingly real. Ms Collier has an intimate knowledge of both Pontypridd and Tiger Bay and her research into the lives and times of the people living in these areas during the 1930's shines through.
I was particularly touched by the account of the young female vocalist trying for a part in the chorus of a travelling musical show. The character, Judy, gives a performance which outshines the others auditioning, yet was refused the part on the grounds that she is mixed race and landladies encountered while the show tours, may not accept her. In the Tiger Bay of that era, multi-national races existed side by side with little animosity, yet as soon as they left their home ground, the people faced prejudice and hostility. My own family has a mixed background and it struck me as I read the novel that we too would have been scorned for our ancestry.
In Tiger Bay Blues, the author has managed to create a light, readable, thought provoking novel with strong and realistic, if not totally likeable, characters.
I would certainly recommend this novel to others who like a fairly light novel with a bit of a twist to the tale.
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 February 2010
N.B. My reviews may be found on other review sites under the same user name.