Book Review: All The Lonely People by Mike Gayle

All The Lonely People

I really enjoyed the last Mike Gayle book – and so when I saw this on NetGalley I jumped at the chance of a review copy!

I didn’t read about the book in advance, I just thought ‘oh, another book with song lyrics as a title’ – but here you go with the blurb:

“Life is waiting to happen to Hubert Bird.
But first he has to open his front door and let it in.
In weekly phone calls to his daughter in Australia, widower Hubert Bird paints a picture of the perfect retirement, packed with fun, friendship and fulfilment.
But Hubert Bird is lying.
The truth is day after day drags by without him seeing a single soul.
Until, that is, he receives some good news – good news that in one way turns out to be the worst news ever, news that will force him out again, into a world he has long since turned his back on.
Now Hubert faces a seemingly impossible task: to make his real life resemble his fake life before the truth comes out.
Along the way Hubert stumbles across a second chance at love, renews a cherished friendship and finds himself roped into an audacious community scheme that seeks to end loneliness once and for all . . .
Life is certainly beginning to happen to Hubert Bird. But with the origin of his earlier isolation always lurking in the shadows will he ever get to live the life he’s pretended to have for so long?
From bestselling author Mike Gayle, All the Lonely People is by turns a funny and moving meditation on love, race, old age and friendship that will not only charm and uplift, but also remind you of the power of ordinary people to make an extraordinary difference.”

As I started reading I realised that Hubert was an octogenarian – interestingly at our virtual book club last week we’d discussed how almost all of us 40 somethings would often be put off a book if it was about old people – but how we’d actually read some wonderful books with older leads (‘Saving Missy’ and ‘A Man Called Ove’ are now on my TBR pile).  So I had high hopes that Hubert would win me over!

It’s set partly in the present day and partly in the 1950s when Hubert first came to the UK from Jamaica. With recent publicity of the Windrush generation this seemed particularly topical.  Equally at one point when Hubert is looking for lodgings he sees a poster saying ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ – which again is very relevant currently with all of the discussions about race in the UK and US.  It is clearly an integral part of the storyline – and his mixed race relationship with his wife Joyce – and is really well written and I found really informative and thought provoking.

The alternate flashback chapters race through the years at key times in Hubert’s life – between arriving in England and the present day explaining the relationship with Joyce and their children, Rose and David, and the twists and turns of their relationships.

In another highly relevant sentence – the long drive between London and Durham is referenced too!!

In the present day Hubert meets Ashleigh and her daughter Layla who have moved in next door and they strike up an unlikely friendship.  Now I have a silly niggle about Ashleigh.  When she’s in Hubert’s house for the first time she is looking at some of the books that Hubert’s professor daughter Rose, who lives in Australia, has written.  Ashleigh struggles over the world ‘Millenium’ in the title. However, Ashleigh is Welsh – and until 2016, the home of Welsh rugby in Cardiff was the Millenium Stadium (now the Principality Stadium) – so I just don’t think it’s a word a valleys’ girl would struggle with!  But I realise I am a totally overthinking pedant………..

Hubert and Ashleigh set about starting up a group to combat loneliness in Bromley.  Interestingly I also found this uber relevant.  At the start of the coronavirus crisis I was involved with setting up a group in our Worcestershire village to help people.  Initially this was for emergency shopping / prescription collection for the elderly and infirm who were shielding – but it quickly became evident that loneliness was a massive factor for people too – and lockdown was amplifying this.

The community feel of the group to combat loneliness also reminded me of the book ‘The Lido’ by Libby Page – I really think Hubert and Rosemary would have got along! It was all so lovely.

There were a couple of moments that were quite shocking and took the plot in a different direction – but it was all beautifully written, as you would expect from the author.

The final chapter was a surprise and not what I expected it to be at all – and I cried (although at the moment I cry at almost anything!)

I said on Twitter yesterday that ‘Half A World Away’ was my favourite lockdown read – but I think Mr Gayle has just usurped himself and takes Gold and Silver lockdown book awards from me – I really, really enjoyed this.  A great story – but also relevant, thought provoking. informative, emotional and just plain lovely.

Slightly off on a tangent, but I’ve always thought of Mike Gayle as a Brummie author – South Birmingham at that (fully explained in my last book review of one of his books) rather than a black author.  I’m not saying ‘I don’t see colour’ or anything tw*tty like that – I just didn’t think it was an issue for me when choosing what to read.  However, I then thought – if I looked at my reading history (usefully recorded in this blog) how many of the authors would be from exactly the same background as me – a white, working class made good, woman.  Is this because I’m instinctively drawn to books written by people like me? Is it because I look at recommendations in women’s magazines / blogs?  Is it that the publishing industry is also heavily biased?  I’m not sure I have any definitive answers – but it has made me think that I should consider this in book selections in the future.  Reading more widely – and getting differing opinions in life written by a variety of people – can only be a good thing.

Thanks Mike Gayle for another fabulous book, and to NetGalley and the publishers for my advanced review copy.  Pre order your copy now for later in July 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Half A World Away by Mike Gayle

Half A World Away

I am super lucky in that I often get to read advance review copies of books  – which is brilliant – but means I tempt my friends with reviews months before the books come out and don’t have chance to dissect books with them at the time!  Two of my book club friends – whose opinion I trust on books – raved about this, so I ACTUALLY PAID for a copy.  I think I have read other Mike Gayle books back in the day – and he’s from Birmingham (and South Birmingham at that – honestly, the accent is different, I was on a plane from Singapore to London some years ago and the stewardess asked me what I’d like to drink, I answered ‘A glass of champagne’ and she asked ‘Where in Birmingham are you from?’ – I said ‘I grew up in Kings Heath’ to which she replied ‘I’m from Harborne, I knew you were close’.)  Anyway – I totally digress – back to the book!

Here’s the blurb:

“Strangers living worlds apart.
Strangers with nothing in common.

But it wasn’t always that way…

Kerry Hayes is single mum, living on a tough south London estate. She provides for her son by cleaning houses she could never afford. Taken into care as a child, Kerry cannot forget her past.

Noah Martineau is a successful barrister with a beautiful wife, daughter and home in fashionable Primrose Hill. Adopted as a young child, Noah never looks back.

When Kerry contacts Noah, the sibling she lost on the day they were torn apart as children, she sets in motion a chain of events that will change both of their lives forever.

By turns funny and moving, Half a World Away is a story that will stay with you long after you read its final page.”

I enjoyed this from the start.  Kerry was a lovely character from the off – fighting for her son to have a better life than she had had. She and her younger brother had been taken into care as kids – but she’d written to her brother every year on his birthday, and every time she’d moved house, but to the adoption agency – so it was up to him whether he got in touch, she never knew where he was.

From the start you could see this was an estranged brother / sister who will find each other story – but it is sooo much more than that.

Noah was also a really likeable character – and the differences between how their lives had panned out was very evident. In fact the only person I didn’t particularly take to was Noah’s wife Rosalind – she just seemed ridiculous in her reactions to things for a large chunk of the book.  Noah had never wanted to find out about his birth family, as he was quite happy in his adopted family – and so looking for them had never been an issue for him.  I have to say his parents and adoptive siblings were all lovely and super supportive of him all of the time.

I love Noah’s relationship with his nephew Kian – and Kian’s relationship with his cousin Millie – they felt really true to life and not forced.  Other peripheral relationships were also lovely – particularly Kerry’s best friend who now lives up North with a whole host of kids, and also one of her cleaning clients who is more like a friend.

Now there is MAJOR thing that happens in the book – but I don’t want to give you any spoilers (I hate spoilers in reviews) but it is totally fundamental to the entire storyline.  It made it super emotional and I must confess to crying lots (not unusual for me!) but I think that is also testament to how emotively it is written.

Overall a fabulous read – and nice to have been able to discuss it with people now, not when they get to read it a few months after me!

I would say definitely one to pack in your suitcase this summer – but, hey ho……..