Saturday 2 April 2011

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

In my lifetime there have been many human disasters here in the UK, often with the full horror of the events happening live on our TV screens and replayed for days in the newspapers. I remember well the horror of Hillsborough in 1989 and the Bradford City fire in 1985 - terrible events with images that were haunting.

It was not until I was sent a copy of The Report by Jessica Francis Kane via the Amazon Vine programme that I became aware of the terrible disaster that happened at Bethnal Green Tube Station in March 1943.  The station was being used as an air-raid shelter and that night 173 people were crushed to death as they were making their way down to the shelter.

Jessica Francis Kane's The Report is her fictional version of the events of that night, and of the following inquiry carried out by local magistrate Laurence Dunne.

The book begins in 1973, around the 30th anniversary of the disaster and Paul Barber is keen to make a commemorative TV documentary about the events of that night.  He approaches the now retired Dunne to seek an interview with him, to ask if he can shed any light on how he completed the inquiry report so quickly and why it was not published immediately.

The novel goes back and forth - the build up of the actual event itself, and the terrible impact that the disaster had on the local people - the loss and the guilt and the feelings of a need for some sort of redemption.

The novel tells the facts but it's not a re-telling of the incident in the traditional way, it's a story that relays the feelings of that night, the panic, the fear, the terror and the tears.  Characters are built up and become so realistic that I struggle now to imagine just who in the story was real and who has been created to enhance the story.   I cared for the characters, I could almost feel their pain and their confusion and their anger and despair - wondering why this had happened, and how they would cope.
A book that makes you think about the blame culture that has grown in this world, about how people see events and how they perceive their own part in it.

An excellent debut novel and I look forward to reading more from this author.

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