Reviewed by Dr. Janice Russell
This book is a magnificent read, in every way, and it’s easy to see why Rose Tremain is described as gifted – she is able to paint a picture with depth, sensitivity and brutal honesty, entrancing her reader from the outset. She also does her homework, researching her subject matter extremely well, resulting in a credible, moving and gripping work.
The Road Home is the odyssey of Lev, an ‘ordinary’ man, who moves to England from Eastern Europe in order to find work and fund the future of his family. Lev finds an England that he didn’t quite expect. Tremain’s writing of this England brilliantly interweaves details and commentary on some of the less prestigious aspects of English culture – celebrities as the new aristocracy, the elderly abandoned into care homes –with a series of rich and vivid characters who embody more attractive values.
The characters throughout the book are boldly drawn. Most courageous is Lev himself – a man with much to carry in his heart and on his shoulders, we feel for him, his plight, and his sense of family duty. We also see his weaknesses: an inward struggle with his own violence, and his mixed ‘whore and virgin’ attitude to and treatment of women. His friend Christy, an Irish immigrant, is drawn with similar complexity, Rudi, the friend left at home, Sophie, the English woman with whom he has an affair, and Lydia, the woman on the bus with whom he travelled from hi s home town, add dimension and interest. They all work well, and provide vehicles for different aspects of Lev’s character to be drawn. These characters also provide the opportunity for humour, which is never far away in a well crafted sense, through use of language, through being media for Lev to remember stories and anecdotes which make us smile frequently throughout. This lightness of touch makes the book extremely easy to read, most engaging.
The plot and pace move along, and while there is a certain predictability, for example in what kind of work Lev does, there are surprises throughout in the form of ‘bit parts’. Tremain’s depth of writing earns her the right to a certain inevitability in the ending, which is foreseeable though far from pure ‘happy’. She has been likened to Steinbeck in her treatment o f the subject matter, evoking the senses of both determination and alienation common to the immigrant, and yet which are more common to many people than is ever truly acknowledged, even when on home turf . Maybe this is why Tremain works so well – not only does she write a good story, but we can identify with the emotions of her characters, whether or not we’ve ever been in their situation. She writes lyrically yet honestly , and her work is moving without being sentimental. This book is an experience: I recommend it highly.
Janice Russell is a life and business coach, and a writer and tutor. She has written Keeping Abreast, a factional, entertaining and provocative story of surviving breast cancer, currently being reprinted. Her latest novel, Rough Diamonds, is being publi shed by Legend Press, and both will be ready to order by Christmas, Janice teaches creative writing online, and offers workshops and critiques in the Algarve.