Richard Lumsden: The Six Loves of Billy Binns
Published by: Tinder Press
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
I remember my dreams but not where they start.
Further back, I recall some of yesterday and the day before that. Then everything goes into a haze.
Fragments of memories come looming back like red London buses in a pea-souper.
Time plays funny tricks these days.
I wait for the next memory. I wait and I wait.
At 117 years old, Billy Binns is the oldest man in Europe and he knows his time is almost up. But Billy has a final wish: he wants to remember what love feels like one last time. As he looks back at the relationships that have shaped his flawed life – and the events that shaped the century – he recalls a life full of hope, mistakes, heartbreak and, above all, love.
What I Say:
Billy Binns is the reluctant oldest resident in The Cedars, and he is also (possibly) the oldest man in Europe having been born in 1900. As Billy is coming to the end of his days, he decides he needs to remember the people who have brought love into his life.
Billy decides that to understand what they meant to him, he wants to write it all down. In leaving his memoir to his son Archie, he is not only telling him about himself, but also the world he grew up in, and why he is the man he is today. Billy tells us straight away that the five great loves in his life are Mary, Evie, Archie, Vera and Mrs Jackson.
I think that Richard Lumsden has done something very brave with Billy Binns. You may disagree, but I have to tell you that at certain times I really didn’t like him. I didn’t like the choices he made or the things he did, but then, can we honestly say we can hold ourselves up as some sort of perfect mortal! It is also important to say that if you are looking for some rose tinted remembrances from a kindly old man as he bids farewell to the world, this novel might not be for you! Billy lies, cheats, tries to kill someone (admittedly because they were violent towards their wife) and makes disastrous choices that make you wince and despair of him.
We follow Billy right from his early years in London working in the Fish Market to when he fakes ID in order to join the army for the First World War, through to his time as a Bus Driver in the Second World War and his eventual arrival at The Cedars. The depictions of Billy’s military career during World War I are truthful and uncompromising. It is a testament to Richard’s writing as to how visceral and awful these scenes are, but this is Billy’s life, and we are re-living it with him – otherwise how do we really understand why Billy is who he is, and the true horrors for the men who gave their lives for us.
As we follow Billy, we learn about each of his five loves. The narrative moves between the present day with Billy having to navigate life at the Cedars, and his recollections of the loves of his past. Sometimes you are not sure whether you are reading about the past or present, but that is the point of Billy’s reminiscences, he is drifting backwards and forwards, sideways and every way to tell his story.
For me what also made this a different type of novel is that the way Billy deals with sex and relationships is sometimes very uncomfortable to read. I often felt that Billy was ruled by desire rather than rationale, and some of the descriptions of his encounters didn’t endear Billy to me, in fact, I felt at some points he got what he deserved!
As we follow Billy through his life, and meet his loves, you become completely absorbed in the relationships too. When they end, certainly for at least one (Sadie!), you want to sit Billy down and have a word with him as to what he is throwing away! This is the crux of Billy Binns- he is unaware that the best thing he has is right in front of him, and he has to go through all these different relationships and events in his life to ultimately realise it.
Richard also seamlessly intertwines Billy’s life story with the changing social history of Britain. We learn about the reality for those serving and those who stayed at home for both World Wars, and also what it really means to be British during a time of massive social change. Issues such as class, women, racism and sexism are tackled, alongside Billy’s own personal experiences of love, loss and growing old in Britain.
The Six Loves of Billy Binns is an ambitious and clever novel, which is filled with humour and tinged with moments of tragedy. Billy’s life has been full, colourful and determined by his need to love and be loved – whatever the cost. His moral compass is occasionally off, and sometimes you might not like Billy very much, but his flaws are what make him human and who are we to judge a man for wanting to find his true love?
Thank you very much to Caitlyn Raynor and Tinder Press for my free copy of Billy Binns.