Set mainly in the British Empire of 1948, this story of emigration, loss and love follows four characters—two Jamaicans and two Britons—as they struggle to find peace in postwar England. After serving in the RAF, Jamaican Gilbert Joseph finds life in his native country has become too small for him. But in order to return to England, he must marry Hortense Roberts—she's got enough money for his passage—and then set up house for them in London. The pair move in with Queenie Bligh, whose husband, Bernard, hasn't returned from his wartime post in India. But when does Bernard turn up, he is not pleased to find black immigrants living in his house. This deceptively simple plot poises the characters over a yawning abyss of colonialism, racism, war and the everyday pain that people inflict on one another.
This book was a hard one to review because I found it a hard one to read. I started this book at least three times but just couldn't sink into the character or the story. I finally read it when stuck indoors one weekend because of the weather- by the time I was about a third of the way through, I was caught up, but that slow start was hard to overcome. The writing is wonderful and the racial and relationship tensions deftly presented; this is another novel about the importance of the things we never say and the actions we don't take. Each of these characters was unhappy with the status quo, but none seemed to be prepared to truthfully confront the other people in the story. Still, though I didn't feel an emotional connection to the characters, I was eager to see how the story would play out. A good read, but one I recommend starting only when you have enough time to really get into it.