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Thursday 1 June 2023

The Broken Places by Russell Franklin #TheBrokenPlaces @RML_Franklin @Phoenix_Bks @orionbooks @_frankiebanks #BookReview

In 1931, Gregory Hemingway's life begins in Kansas City, Missouri. The third and favourite child of an overbearing father, Greg is a paragon: a star athlete, a crack shot, bright and handsome and built like a pocket battleship.

In 2001, Gloria Hemingway's life ends in a Miami women's correctional institution. Complex and contradictory, radiant and resilient, it is a life that has flourished against the odds and been lived to the full.

Inspired by true events and spanning seventy years of the last century, this is the story of a miraculous existence, told with beauty and compassion. Transporting the reader back and forth in time, from Cuba to New York and Montana to Florida, The Broken Places explores what it means to grow up in the shadow of a man famous for his masculinity, to bear the weight of expectation and a tragic family legacy, and to finally step out into the light.

The Broken Places by Russell Franklin is published on 8 June 2023 by Phoenix. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review. 

I really enjoy novels that are based on real life people, and The Broken Places centres around Gregory Hemingway, the favourite son of famous novelist Ernest. I have to admit that I knew very little about the Hemingway family before I began to read this book, and have spent a long time on Google since finishing the novel, finding out more about them. What a fascinating and fearsome family this was.

The book begins in Key West, USA in 1939 when Greg was just eight years old and sets the scene for what is to come. Greg and his brother Patrick spent their childhood flitting between the home of their mother in the US and then staying with Ernest, and an assortment of new wives in Cuba. Greg spent much of his life trying his best to impress his father, who was highly critical at times, terribly dismissive at others. Greg also carried around feelings of huge guilt, blaming himself for many events that happen during his life, even though, we as a reader, can see that he was not at fault. 

Greg liked to dress in female clothing, and it was this that really caused so many issues with his father. Greg felt as though he really shouldn't be doing this, and tried to stop, but instinct took over.  As years progress, Greg develops the same symptoms as his father, that of a manic depressive and failed marriages, as well as the continuing desire to dress as a female. Many many years later, he finally allows himself to be known as Gloria, and whilst he can then freely wear the clothes that he loves, the impact this has on his life is devastating. 

Russell Franklin writes with such compassion. The portrayal of family relationships are stunning, especially that between Greg and Patrick, the brothers that grew up together, were thrust too early into adulthood and always seemed to have something to prove to others. Despite some tragic events, their relationship remains strong.

The sights and sounds of Cuba; the colour, the heat, the people, the community are all beautifully painted, the reader gets such a taste for this country and how unique it is. 

Structurally, the novel can be challenging at times as the author skips from era to era, one does have to ensure that a note is taken of the date at the top of each chapter as it's not chronological at all.

I really enjoyed this glimpse into an extraordinary life. It is sensitively written, exploring many issues and whilst there are dark times for the characters, there are sparks of joy and tenderness throughout. 

A fine debut from an author to watch. Recommended. 

Russell Franklin was born in Solihull, and now lives and works in London. 

He was selected for the prestigious London Library Emerging Writers Programme 2020-2021. 

This is his first novel.

Twitter @RML_Franklin

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