The Road Home
By Rose Tremain
Sometimes I read a book that has won a prestigious award and I come away wondering why it won, or I may understand why, but award or no, I just didn't like the book. Not so with The Road Home. It is completely deserving of the Orange Prize and I loved every page of it.
Rose Tremain has given us a poignant, perfectly crafted novel. It is beautifully written. The plot ambles along at a relaxed and steady pace, but never once did I lose interest. I attribute this to two things. First, the compelling characters and Tremain's ability to draw the reader in, to make us emotionally invested in what happens to these rather ordinary people.
Lev ... I really liked this guy. And by the book's end, I knew him so well. Lev's journey to London and the life he lived there made the immigrant experience so real. The competing cacophony of emotions: he was hopeful, overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, sad, at one point blissfully in love. He felt he was betraying those he left behind just by being in London, even though he was there to make life better for them; if he enjoyed life in his temporary city, he felt guilty. I felt Lev's frustration with the language barrier. Reading about how he was treated as somehow inferior just because he dressed differently, had different mannerisms, struggled to understand and make himself understood made my heart break with sympathy.
There were other characters who I grew to care about, and surprisingly most were men. I sometimes find it difficult to warm to adult male characters. But in this case, I quickly came to adore Rudi, Lev's brash and reckless, yet big-hearted old friend and Christy Slane, Lev's sweet, easygoing, down on his luck London flatmate.
The second thing that stands out about this novel are the descriptions of the two central places: London and the unnamed Eastern European country Lev comes from. The richly textured images Tremain so masterfully creates stand alone, but are especially meaningful when viewed in contrast. Lev's home country, struggling to feel hopeful after the fall of communism seemed bleak, faded, gray, sadly downtrodden. London, a frenzied melting pot, at times glamorous and sophisticated, at others gritty and ordinary, but always colorful and alive.
The characters and images in this highly readable, exquisitely written book will remain with me long after I turned the last page.
Note: This review originally posted at my book blog, Literarily.