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I love my caravan but not Two Caravans
Two Caravans - Marina Lewycka
Member Name: Meggysmum
Two Caravans - Marina Lewycka
Date: 13/09/10, updated on 14/03/11 (128 review reads)
Advantages: Covers some interesting topics
Disadvantages: Not very amusing
I am not sure how I came to have a copy of Two Caravans on my bookshelf but whilst packing for my holiday recently I saw the descriptions "Hilarious" and "funny and charming romp" on the cover and popped it in my suitcase thinking it would make a light-hearted holiday read.
As I said I wasn't sure how I came to have a copy (must have been in a pile from a friend) as I did not enjoy Marina Lewyckas first novel, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. However I decided to give the author another try and these books do have the advantage of having distinctive covers in beige, red and green and so are very memorable and attractive.
The story starts with us meeting a group of immigrant workers from several disadvantaged countries who are trying to make money here by strawberry picking. They are living a bizarrely attractive life in two caravans in the peaceful Kent countryside and seem to be generally happy with their existence, although they are an eclectic mix they seem to have formed some good friendships. However all good things must come to an end and the relationship between the farmer and the supervisor Yola leads to an explosive situation which changes everyone's circumstances overnight.
Suddenly the motley band are on the road looking for new opportunities in this country of promise. However with little money, no papers and a poor command of the language their hopes for a better life seem to be bound for disappointment. The story follows their journey across the country as each tries to find the best situation for themselves, be it returning home, heading for pastures new or trying to establish themselves in England.
Two Caravans is written in several contrasting styles. Irina is written in the first person, most of the rest of the story is written in the third person and then every now and again Dogs thought get written in capital letters with no punctuation. The contrasting styles produced interesting reading but I found the Dog parts irritating, I am not a fan of anthropomorphism at the best of times and so I am really not interested in the anticipated thoughts of a dog even when they related to the story. A lot of the text is written as dialogue which does require some concentration to follow what is happening as the words and spellings try to show the accents and dialects of the workers.
The basis of this book is the desire of migrant workers to improve their lives and the routes they may take as well as the comradeship and love they may find on the way. Unfortunately for many people entering this country, particularly those entering illegally there are many people reading to exploit and terrorise them. These aspects are well covered in this book and the complex issues surrounding these people's situations were well explored and I found this aspect interesting and thought-provoking, especially with regards to EU and non-EU citizens.
Two Caravans is described as a funny book but here I would have to disagree. A couple of the characters are mildly amusing and their ill-fated romance is entertaining but the comic element is limited really to their misinterpretations of situations and relationships. Unfortunately I didn't find reading about genuine but naive people being exploited and bullied very amusing. Also, at one point, several of the group end up working at a chicken factory, the author gives graphic details of the appalling conditions the animals are kept in and the inhumane way they are treated. I have read about these practices before and find them sickening and certainly did not add anything of a comic nature to the story.
Some readers will find this mix of humour and serious issues unusual and interesting. I think that I am unusual in that I took the whole matter too seriously and felt that making light of these peoples situation is demeaning whereas actually I am sure it has been written to bring these matters to the forefront and to demonstrate to us all what is happening around us. The author has a Ukrainian background and obviously has a good understanding of the difficulties faced by the foreign workforce. I think I would actually prefer a book which explores these issues more as I found them interesting.
Overall Two Caravans did not make me any more inclined to read any more books by this author, they obviously just don't appeal to me although I know many people who really like them. I find the issues the author dealt with very interesting and would have enjoyed the book more without the efforts to make it light-hearted. Although this is a relatively short book at just over 300 pages it took me a long time to read as I just couldn't get into the story and as it is written in small sections there was little flow.
If you read "Tractors" and enjoyed it then this will probably be one you enjoy too but if "Tractors" wasn't your thing I suggest you give this one a miss as well.
Summary: Not one I would read again