Book Review - The Lubetkin Legacy

by Marina Lewycka (Fig Tree) ISBN: 978-0-241-24921-5 

This is the fifth novel from Marina Lewycka, author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian. 

Just before she dies, Berthold Sidebottom’s elderly mother implores “Don’t let them get the flat, Bertie!” The council flat in question, built by Russian modernist architect Berthold Lubetkin, has been her home since 1952. Berthold is an out of work Shakespearean actor who quotes the Bard inopportunely and is prone to comparing himself to George Clooney. He lives with his mother. 

What follows is the convoluted tale of his hare-brained attempts to hold onto the tenancy of the elegant if slightly shabby flat. The cast of unusual characters includes Inna, the Ukrainian woman who comes to live with Berthold to impersonate his mother, and Violet, the Kenyan girl in the next door flat who is finding her feet at a corporate job in London. Violet’s story, told in the third person, is interspersed between Berthold’s first person narrative. 

I found too many loose ends from the multiple story lines at the end. Following the success of her first book, Lewycka’s writing feels slightly contrived in this book as she struggles for the same effortless dark humour. This is a light holiday read. 

Ewa Fabris


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Various Pets Alive & Dead

by Marina Lewycka (Penguin) ISBN 9781905490912


Lewycka’s fourth book is uninspired and full of clichés, but maybe I just did not ‘get’ it. 


What I am looking for in a novel is something that touches the soul, that comes from within, whichever source that might be, something that makes me laugh out loud or makes me cry. Various Pets Alive & Dead did not move me, did not make me laugh and I found it a complete waste of time. 


If anyone wants to give it a try: The story is told in five parts, through several viewpoints, set in the economic crisis year 2008. Doro and Marcus are stereotypical parents from the hippie era who lived in a commune with their own children, Serge and Clara, and Oolie a Down’s syndrome girl, whom they co-parent.


Serge is an analyst at an investment bank, too scared to tell his parents about his materialistic job. Clara is a school teacher trying to bring order to her life and Oolie is the handicapped adult desperate to move out and become independent. Her voice is the most sincere. The various pets of the title are an unnecessary distraction.


Lewycka was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for her debut, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.


Pauline Vijverberg


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