Monday 30 March 2015

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

When Noel Bostock – aged ten, no family - is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he ends up living in St Albans with Vera Sedge - thirty-six and drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it.
Noel’s mourning his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. Brought up to share her disdain for authority and eclectic approach to education, he has little in common with other children and even less with Vee, who hurtles impulsively from one self-made crisis to the next. The war’s thrown up new opportunities for making money but what Vee needs (and what she’s never had) is a cool head and the ability to make a plan.
On her own, she’s a disaster. With Noel, she’s a team.
Together they cook up an idea. Criss-crossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to make a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life.
But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn’t actually safe at all…

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans was published by Doubleday in hardback in November 2014, the paperback edition will be published in September of this year.  Crooked Heart has been longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, 2015.

There are lots of recently published books that are set during World War II, it would be easy to say that the subject has been done to death, and then, just when you don't expect it, you come across a story like Crooked Heart. This is a story that will pull the heartstrings with it's central character of Noel and his temporary mother Vera. Two characters who are original, and quirky and completely fabulous creations. Their story is like no other, it's charming and witty and will make you smile.

Noel is a ten-year-old boy who has lived with his Godmother Mattie for most of his life. We don't know why he lived with her and not his parents, but she has moulded him into a tiny shadow of herself. Mattie was a suffragette, she didn't agree with school, or with war and Noel has had a most unusual childhood. The story begins with Mattie's demise into senile dementia, and Noel does his best to cover up for her, but it's clear that he can't carry on for much longer.

When Mattie is no more, Noel finds himself evacuated to St Albans. He is billeted with Vera Sedge, her elderly mute mother and her lazy, fat son Donald. Once again, Noel finds himself living in a strange household, with very strange people. This family is so far away from anything that he knows, yet in Vera, he finds an unlikely friend. Both wily-minded, they work together to beat the system, and despite the troubles they encounter along the way, their unorthodox means of making a living bring them together and they become a family.

Lissa Evans has a huge talent. Her characters are so vibrant, so lifelike and so damn funny. The plot races along at a great pace, with twists and turns and unexpected events along the way. War torn London, with the underground shelters, the spirit of the Blitz and the black market dealings of the less salubrious characters is a dream, so cleverly created, the reader is transported there within a couple of sentences.

Crooked Heart is a joy to read, filled as it is with characters and places that are expertly drawn and a story that is exciting and vivid. A great story, I'd highly recommend it.

Following a brief career in medicine, Lissa Evans spent five years as a producer in BBC Radio Light Entertainment. She then moved to television, where her credits as a producer/director include Room 101, Father Ted and The Kumars at Number 42. She has written books for both adults and children, many of which have been short and longlisted for prizes as various as the Orange Prize and The Whitbread Prize.

Find out more about Lissa at her website
Follow her on Twitter @LissaKEvans

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