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.