This is a gentle read by an award-winning author of such charming historic novels as Restoration. There is a little bit of everything to please in The Road Home. The novel takes an unblinking look at the migrant worker experience in contemporary Great Britain while infusing a lot of heart-felt optimism into the story. Tightly plotted and sensitively imagined the novel exposes the gritty side of London where the poor must struggle for a living while not far away, the young, the beautiful and the affluent enjoy the nightclub and fine-dining lifestyle.
The main character is Lev who is in his early forties and recently widowed; his young wife having died of cancer. His country of origin is not named but it is explained that it is one of the former Soviet satellites with a struggling economy. There is no longer any employment for Lev in the lumberyard where he has worked all his adult life and as he is an unskilled laborer he has no prospects for the future. He decides to take advantage of his country’s having recently gained membership in the EU and boards a bus for England leaving his little girl in the care of her grandmother.
The plotting out of events is very interesting because Mrs. Tremain has chosen to have Lev rise out of the desperation of his own ashes. He begins his British life as a homeless person sleeping in the streets of London. Blessed with optimism and a lot of good luck he eventually finds a job as a dishwasher at a high-end restaurant. He is just settling into his new life when he is fired from his job and ends up in rural England working on a farm. The last part of the novel has Lev returning to his homeland determined to start a new enterprise that will support his extended family. Everything comes full circle… a very nice story.
This is a work of literary fiction… no suspense, mystery or excruciatingly painful moments, just a good story; alternately funny and a little sad in a melancholy way. Its best element has to be its cast of characters. There is of course the earnest intelligent Lev as protagonist. Lev entertains his friends with stories about his his boyhood friend Rudi, who lives every waking moment devoted to his old broken down car christened simply the Tchevi and is the strategic center of a multitude of Rudi’s schemes and enterprises. Then there is Sophie, the somewhat shallow pastry chef /girlfriend, insinuating her way into those celebrity circles so venerated by the tabloid reading public. Although attracted to Lev she is prepared to betray him in a moment in the pursuit of her own interests. Christie is Lev’s landlord battling alcoholism and the trauma of divorce because it has resulted in the loss of his beloved daughter. Then there is Lydia, an educated woman who works as a translator. She meets Lev on the way to England and tries to teach him a little English. She is an exile from the same country as Lev and spends most of her life as the caregiver to an aging but celebrated conductor of symphonic music while longing for love and companionship.
This is definitely a nice summer read with many stories woven around Lev as he navigates his way back home.
Worthy of note: Rose Tremaine published Merival: A Man of His Time in 2012. This is a sequel to Restoration. I think I shall have to buy a copy and add it to the inventory.