A displaced European’s Candide-like progress through contemporary London is charted in this ambitious novel from the Whitbread Award–winning British author (The Colour, 2003, etc.).
The protagonist is Lev, a recently widowed and also jobless former sawmill worker. He has left his young daughter and his (also widowed) mother behind (in a generically economically disadvantaged country that is and isn’t Poland), hoping to find work and send money home. Debarking from the Trans-Euro bus on which he meets a similarly down-at-heels countrywoman (Lydia, who’ll re-enter Lev’s new life at variously crucial moments), Lev acquires a fragile living working as a distributor of leaflets, as a dishwasher, and so on, slowly ascending the ladder of minimal solvency, making a painstaking adaptation to a society that seems, to his bemused view, inexplicably self-indulgent, pampered and unmotivated. While sticking close to Lev’s roiling thought processes, Tremain simultaneously constructs a subtly detailed mosaic of personal and cultural distinctions and conflicts—notably in Lev’s cautious approach to reclaiming a sex life (perhaps even a love life?) and in generously developed conversations between Lev and his fulsome Irish landlord, bibulous plumber and compulsive worrywart Christy Slane. The novel’s texture is further enriched by lengthy flashbacks spun from Lev’s wistful memories, which acquaint us more fully with his warmhearted late wife Marina and his best friend Rudi, a resourceful hustler whose busy head is filled with visions of all things American, and foolproof scams by which such riches may be acquired. Rudi is an ingenious comic counterpart to Candide’s annoyingly optimistic mentor Pangloss, and the novel dances into vigorous life whenever he takes hold of it. Still, Lev offers readers ample reason to get lost in this immensely likable novel’s many pleasures.
One of the best from the versatile Tremain, who keeps on challenging herself, and rewarding readers.