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After Lewycka'sTractors in Ukraine I was looking forward to this, but was disappointed.
The extremely busy straggling plots centre on Bertold Sidebottom who imports Inna, an elderly, wildly eccentric Ukranian, to impersonate his mother in order to ensure that he doesn't lose the tenancy on the London council flat he shared with his mother before her death. Parallel to this story is Violet, the young Kenyan intent on doing her bit to stop violations (including that of her boss at International Wealth Preservation against herself) and against communal cherry trees threatened with the axe, and against international financial scams and swindles.
It's certainly immensely energetic and packed with gutsy and impassioned swipes at all the government-policies-induced ills in our society from zero hours contracts to bedroom tax and rubbish jobs; there's an entertaining potpourri of languages and a crowd of vibrant characters. The language is inventive and fun - from Ukraine, Kenya, management speak, young and old Londoners - and some dialogue made me laugh, like Bertold's old mother's words in the title to this review. I liked the 'lettuce-leaf handshake' and 'media-mouthed crap' too. The trouble is that there is just too much going on so that the characters never develop as real people, and the 'funny' parts can lose sight of reality and become just silly.
There's plenty of sharp observation, and there's pathos too. Legless Len dies because his electricity was cut off and he couldn't cool his insulin; Bertold is struggling to recover after the death of his young daughter and the disintegration of his marriage - but these elements are too rushed to engage the listener's sympathies and merely sit uncomfortably with the questionable slapstick-farce elements, such as the coffin of Bertold's mother bursting open at the funeral.
The whole is too heavy-handed. The repetition becomes irritating and any comic effect of hearing the phrases for the first time is lost. Flossie the Parrot squawks inappropriately and the door bell goes Ding Dong far too often; Inna must have rattled through her repertoire of Ukranian pies and cakes more than fifty times; Bertold constantly makes comparisons between himself and George Clooney which add nothing. Chunks of background information - the war-history of Odessa; corruption in Kenya - stick out awkwardly from the narrative.
All of that said, if you want a fun-romp with some food for thought, you won't be disappointed. The narration is certainly a bonus with a raft of accents including the wittily mangled Ukranian English - much better brought alive than read on the page.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Mediocre at best and that is generous. I kept listening in the hope of last minute hilarious redemption, but alas, it was not to be.
Narration was good but I thought the story was terrible. To me it feels like Lewycka has exhausted herself. She had an amazing first entry with "Tractors" and each subsequent novel has struggled to live upto the previous. I don't think I will put myself through any more of her offerings, if/when they appear.
The story is only vaguely more interesting than reading the legislation regarding it's subject matter, the bedroom tax'.
One to return to Audible if you have the misfortune of finding it in your library.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful