Friday, 18 October 2013

Book Review: Word On The Street - Romy Wood

Synopsis - The homeless are dying; a pestilence is sweeping them off the streets, while the authorities herd the not-yet-dead into sinister 'clinics' in derelict industrial wastelands... until suddenly The Public is no longer immune.

Review - This book is different, quirky and has black humour.  It's not a particularly pleasant book to read.  I am pretty sure I would not have selected it to purchase if I had been looking for something to read in the bookshop.  However, you may remember from a previous post I attended the book launch and had intended to buy to review, partly out of obligation for being there.  But, one of our party bought the book and thrust it into my mitt insisting I read her copy!  I must admit I am pleased I have read it on loan but this is not me dissing the book.  I would not have kept it, but then I don't keep many of my reads due to space and storage issues.

One big reason I supported this event was that Romy Wood is a Welsh writer and a relatively new writer as well.  Her d├ębut Bamboo Grove came out in 2010 and Word On The Street is her second novel.  Back to the review.  Did I like the book?  Not really, because it isn't an easy read.  It's not comfortable, it's about the lower levels of life, those who hit rock bottom, the homeless.  We should care about these people and many do.  A lot more help is available for the homeless now, than I remember when I was a child.  My mother would rush me past saying they were dirty, had fleas and drunk.  I remember asking why we couldn't give them 10p for a cup of tea like they asked and my mother responding because they won't buy a cup of tea, they'll buy a bottle of whisky.  Even at that age I knew whisky cost a lot more than 10p and so (I think) did a cup of tea.  I think you understand my meaning that for much of our society, the homeless are taboo, scum and not to be touched.  There are so many reasons people are out on the streets and not by choice but by circumstance, they have fallen on hard times, bankrupt with nowhere to go, kicked out of their homes by their spouses or families for many reasons not just abuse.  The list goes on.  These folk are vulnerable and the shelters are hot houses for disease.

This story centres around Shona who is in charge of the shelter which appears to be the epicentre of the dying.  Shona has her own 'issues' or mental health problems and at the end of the book, I am left not being quite sure whether the story is a figment of her imagination or if it did happen and she ends up where she is by chance or circumstance.  The ending was rather a disappointment, maybe the author wanted the reader to make up their mind whether Shona was in an institution or hospitalised for the apparent circumstances she was supposed to be in.  Did I miss something here?  I'm not sure.  It is well written and the use of  language in the book marries with the storyline and characters.  None of the characters are particularly likeable, apart from Fflur who at seventeen turns up on the doorstep of the shelter.  As the story unravels we get to understand our characters more, why Shona is the way she is, and our thoughts about Colin's repetitive behaviour and odd little ways are confirmed.  I did very much like the parody of the government minister and the social worker.  References to 'Carol' the creative writing tutor made me smile too.  There are some good bits in the book and if you can get past the unsavouriness of it all then give it a try. 3*

ISBN 978-0-9473155-2-5

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