This Lovely City by Louise Hare #BookReview #BlogTour

The drinks are flowing.
The music is playing.
But the party can’t last.

With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.

Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery.

As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.

Atmospheric, poignant and compelling, Louise Hare’s debut shows that new arrivals have always been the prime suspects. But, also, that there is always hope.

I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for This Lovely City today. My grateful thanks to Louise Hare and HQ for inviting me and for sending me a copy of the novel.

There is a quote from Enoch Powell's infamous 'Rivers of Blood' speech at the start of This Lovely City and although set before his words caused a political storm, the inclusion is a stark reminder that the Caribbean community who came to Britain after the war immediately faced suspicion and accusations despite having been invited to the 'Motherland' by a country which desperately needed help to rebuild. It should also be uncomfortably obvious that even now, this is still a nation which often seeks to present a 'hostile environment' to those it deems as others, including the recent shameful treatment of the Windrush Generation.
That same generation are the focus of This Lovely City, with Lawrie having left Jamaica on the Empire Windrush in the belief that Britain would welcome him with open arms. On arrival, however, he discovered that the country hadn't even prepared somewhere for them to live, beyond makeshift accommodation in Clapham tube station. The natural homesickness which perhaps inevitably arises when moving to a new country - especially one as damp, bomb-damaged and ration-weary as post-war Britain is exacerbated further by his struggle to find a job amidst subtle and overt racism. However, as the novel's timeline switches between 1948 and 1950,  it becomes apparent that he eventually does begin to find a place for himself, securing a job as a postman and a loving relationship with Evie, the girl-next-door.
It's a chilling sentence then which informs us that he will question whether the grin he wore earlier in the day was a jinx which resulted in him being sat in a police station under suspicion of a terrible crime. It soon transpires that a simple twist of fate which led to him helping a distressed woman with a tragic discovery means that his skin colour places him as a suspect while she is only ever regarded as a witness. The local community - including the police  - are all too ready to use the tragedy as an excuse to attack the newcomers, both verbally and physically, and the threat of imminent violence constantly hangs over the heads of Lawrie and his fellow immigrants. The dark mystery threatens the relationship between Lawrie and Evie but the sweet romance between the pair ensures This Lovely City is consistently a captivating, rather touching read. It is always obvious that both are concealing secrets from one another, with the flashbacks to 1948 gradually revealing what they are hiding and the truth is heartbreaking.
If Lawrie's troubles reflect what life was like for a young black man recently moved to the UK then mixed-race Evie's experiences demonstrate not only the barriers and difficulties facing all women in the 1950s but also the misogynoir encountered by black women of the time; including the prejudicial behaviour of  her peers and teachers at school, the various demands or dismissals of her body and the assumptions about her morals. Her own story becomes even more painful when compared to that of her mother who is about as complicated a figure as I can remember ever reading in a book. She is frequently a domineering, coercive presence in her daughter's life and yet there are moments where she own struggles and her reasons why she behaves as she does reveal an altogether more sympathetic - if still flawed - side to her personality.
There are still too many shameful incidences of racism in the present day of course, with the Windrush Scandal being of a particularly poignant relevance and there are many scenes in the novel which should upset, anger or shame readers. However, although this is a vividly intense portrayal of a rapidly changing time in Britain and is rightly critical of the the behaviour and attitudes of many members of the community (and nation as a whole), there is still a sense of hope here, whether through the honest, deep love felt between Lawrie and Evie or through the benefit of hindsight which provides us with the knowledge that, despite its failings the country now is very different to how it was back then. I absolutely loved This Lovely City; it is a beautifully written, engaging and important book which grants a vibrant, authentic voice to the black community who deserve to have their experiences and stories given their rightful place as a part of British history.                                                                                                                                                                                                     
This Lovely City is published in the UK by HQ, purchasing links can be found here.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Louise Hare is a London based author. Her debut novel This Lovely City is due to be published by HQ (Harper Collins) on March 12th 2020 and House of Anansi (N. America) on April 7th 2020. She has an MA in Creative Writing (Distinction) from Birkbeck, University of London.
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