The Monday Book: THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACKS by Linda Grant

grant bookThis book was interesting to me less because of its characters than the conundrum it presented, a morality tale of “who’s the good guy and who do you as reader get to judge?”

Remember when Breaking Bad set everyone to talking about when people go bad versus when they’re just trying to survive? Grant’s novel supposes two brothers from Hungary, one who left before things got bad for Jewish people, one who got caught–in Hungary, and again in England. But caught for what – being Jewish, or being a criminal? It all starts going sideways once one asks that question. So Vivien (the daughter of the older brother) sets out to learn what secrets her parents have hidden under platitudes, and what truths her uncle has hidden under crimes.

Clothing becomes almost its own character in this story, as people struggle between what they were, what they are, and what they want to become, showing their riches and their hopes by what they wear. I’ve never seen such use of fabrics and design, even in some of the trendy movies lately. Fascinating.

And Grant has this interesting writing style – plodding along, telling the story, then flaming into poetry, and back to prosaic, practical writing. Here’s one example, when the uncle is in Harrod’s department store:

Sometimes he would spend a whole day just looking at all the beautiful things he had once owned before he went to prison, and had treated far too lightly, feeling that they were like water that fell through his fingers.

This is a slow, savoring read. Make yourself some tea and settle in.


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