I was determined to read this since I had seen they were filming it for channel 4 so naturally I ended up reading it just a few days before it was going to be shown and actually finishing it a few hours before the TV version. I have had the actual book on my shelves (well in my boxes) for quite a while and been meaning to read it so this has been the perfect opportunity.
The tale of Poppy Shakespeare is told by N, a day resident of the Dorothy Fish Hospital in North London. One day N is asked to look after a new patient Poppy Shakespeare who is insistent that she isn’t made and shouldn’t be there at all. Despite N thinking she clearly is mad, she sets out to not only look after Poppy but to help her convince the doctors she isn’t mad, by being really mad. Are you confused yet? Fortunately the author Clare Allan manages to put what is quite a complex story across in an easily digestible and very funny debut with seriously dark undertones. I can see why this has had such rave reviews and why Allan has been up for the Orange Award.
Allan is asking the question who is sane? Who is mad? How do we define the two? Where do they overlap? I think what I loved about the book was how real some of the characters were, I loved the fact that N had no desire to leave the Dorothy Fish and couldn’t understand why anyone would. N is a great narrator and extremely original, if you are put off by swearing just ignore it in this case as you will be missing out on a real treat. Her language is also not politically correct, she calls the patients ‘dribblers’ of which Allan herself was one and so you know the book also has that slight edge of realism whilst being quite surreal. Overall a funny, heart breaking, heart warming debut.
Sorry this is a short review… I just dont want to give anything away and also the storyline sounds much more confusing than it is and I dont want that to accidentally put you off.
Once every so often you come across a book where you just think ‘what a great idea’ and ‘how the hell did they come up with that idea?’ This is the case of Stella Duffy’s latest novel ‘The Room of Lost Things’. It is a really accomplished and human novel that tells of some of the residents of Loughborough Junction and celebrates the often forgotten ‘south of the river’ part of London. I really loved this book and not just for the real characters but for the idea of the room of lost things.
The story focuses on several characters but in particular Robert Sutton who is the keeper of the room of lost things. He runs a laundry in Loughborough Junction which he is handing over to Akeel and his wife, meaning that he is packing up and dealing with his past and not only the secrets that other people have left in their laundry, but his own demons. There are also tales of a gay commitment phobe, a nanny who is having an affair, a woman with memory loss and many more colourful but most importantly realistic characters.
The other star of the story is London and not the London that everyone knows and loves, not the tourist traps and the hustle and bustle of the West End but the more hidden parts where tubes dare not tread and in some ways you could say this is a love letter (the prose is beautiful) to a part of London that Duffy lives and indeed loves. I haven’t read any of Duffy’s previous works but I know she has written crime and though this is not a crime novel you can see how she weaves a plot dropping hints and herrings to what’s to come at the end of the book.
I was moved, I feel in love with London even more (especially as it was based on my side of the river) and I had read it before I realised it, and it just enveloped me. A wonderful book I whole heartedly recommend.