Life among the lowly in London's East End from before World War II onward--as noisy and grimy as the crumbling ""up-and-downers"" that won't be knocked down for council housing until after the war. The author herself grew up in such back streets and convincingly lays out the life of orphan Maggie, victim of poverty and good men turned sour. Raised by her good Dah who perished in a tube accident, Maggie is put in a family way at 15 by Jim, son of the woman who took her in. They marry and, while Jim serves a short prison term and a long stretch in the navy, Maggie rears her four sons (one fathered by a black doctor) without help; even when Jim's home, he's too boozy to be much help anyway. It's scrabble and slave and rock with the punches as the sons veer away, some up, some down. Maggie remains the loyal mum, traveling to check on her boys, even hiding the lolly from a robbery until one son gets out of prison. And after Jim's death, Maggie is courted by a rags-to-riches East Ender and given the little house in the country she'd always dreamt about. Messy, very, but the diction and mores are as authentic as a pennyworth of cracklings, and the natter'll burn in your ears some time after.