This Lovely City by Louise Hare
Published by HQ Stories
Available from all Good Bookshops and Online
What They Say
The drinks are flowing.
The music is playing.
But the party can’t last.
With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.
Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery.
As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.
What I Say
I need to start this Blog Post with an apology to Louise. I read This Lovely City in May, and adored it, and started a blog post straight away, but I just couldn’t find the right words to tell you all about it. We were in the middle of lockdown, adjusting to life with all four of us – five if you include our dog, at home, all the time, and we didn’t know what was going to happen next. Juggling everyday life, school work, new rules and not being able to go out as and when we wanted hit me hard. The world beyond our house was also facing an unprecedented time, people were protesting throughout the world about Black Lives Matter, and my words somehow didn’t seem important enough to publish.
The thing is, that Louise’s novel is on the bookshelf in my dining room, and every time I went in there, it was sat there waiting for me in its bold and beautiful cover. I need to tell you about this novel, about Lawrie and Evie, about why their story is so important for us all, and how we think everything has changed in our society, but in so many ways, there are so many attitudes that have not moved on from the time where Lawrie and Evie’s story is set.
Lawrie is part of the Windrush generation, who has come to our country in search of a better life for himself and his family. He is in love with Evie, the girl next door, who lives with her mother Agnes, and they are like most young people, trying to find a way to spend some time together in a world where it is not seen as appropriate for unmarried couples to spend time together alone. Lawrie is working as a postman, but at night time, he and his friends form a jazz group and play at venues around London. It seems that this is when Lawrie and London really come alive – Louise’s descriptions of the sights and sounds of this world which where Lawrie really can be himself are so vibrant and real that you feel you are sat in the corner watching these friends enjoy their lives.
One day, when Lawrie is on his post round, he is approached by an hysterical woman who has found the body of a baby in a nearby pond. When Lawrie is taken to the station to give his side of the story, it is clear from the moment that he enters the room, that the police are certain Lawrie killed the child. What is so unnerving and uncomfortable to read about this incident, is not only the judgements that the police unquestioningly put on Lawrie, but how casually and unconsciously their attitude and manner towards him is dripping with the racism they are so comfortable with.
With seemingly little to go on, Lawrie is released – to find that the tyres on his bike have been slashed. This is what makes This Lovely City so difficult but so necessary to read. This is London in the 1950s. Lawrie and his friends were actively encouraged to come here by the government as part of the Windrush generation, to help Britain rebuild after the Second World War, but the shiny pamphlets and promises of a better life failed to mention the way in which they would be treated and the racist attitudes that they would encounter at every turn.
Lawrie may have been released, but as the baby who passed away was black, the police are convinced that the person who committed the crime must be too, and they step up their threats and intimidation, seemingly randomly targeting people in an attempt to illicit a confession from someone. The interesting thing in this investigation too is that Mrs Barratt, a white woman who found the child’s body is automatically discharged from the enquiry.
As the investigation continues, what is so strong in this narrative is that all this tension, suspicion and sobering sense of unease is set against the love story of Evie and Lawrie. Her love binds him to her unquestioningly, and her determination to prove that Lawrie is innocent is the driving force throughout the novel. Evie also faces casual racism on a daily basis, from people not taking her seriously at work, to those not wanting to sit near her on a bus. For me, these scenes were shameful to read, because they were so casual yet so ingrained in so many people.
All Lawrie and Evie want to do is to have the chance to be married, and to embrace the life that was tantalisingly promised to them by the very country that is so intent on destroying it. As the novel moves forward, it becomes clear that both Lawrie and Evie have hidden secrets from each other, frightened that revealing them could end their relationship. Ultimately, it is only by realising that their love for each other is the most powerful and immovable force, that they can finally be honest with each other and live the life together that they deserve.
From the very moment you turn the first page, in This Lovely City, Louise Hare immerses you absolutely in London in the late 40’s and early 50’s. The sights, sounds and world Lawrie and Evie are in are so clear and vibrant that it makes you lose yourself totally. Both Lawrie and Evie are characters that not only are trying to find their way in this huge and sometimes cruel city, but they are also trying to find a way to be together totally honestly, when both have secrets they are desperately trying to hide from the person they love the most.
This Lovely City is a novel that will educate you, make you see how far we think we have come in terms of our understanding and condemnation of racism, but unflinchingly shows us how much there is still to do and how much further we have to go. At the heart of this unforgettable story and in every single page is the love story of Lawrie and Evie. All they want is to live together in peace, in the city they love, and their innate capacity for love and tolerance is perhaps the most important lesson we need to take from their enduring narrative.
I absolutely loved it.
Thank you very much to Joe Thomas and HQ Stories for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.