It seems that I have finally managed to get out of the slump I was in for the past month. It’s funny how one manages to get into phase where some reads are unenjoyable. But thankfully the Clothes on their backs gave me something I was looking for that the previous novels I read lacked and it was by an author I’ve never read before.
The Clothes on their Backs is not a highly original piece of work. It deals with (Hungarian) refugees and acceptance into British society. However the manner which these topics are presented are quite uncliched.
Vivien is the only child of two mousey Hungarian parents who believe that complete obedience to English culture is the only way of survival and she is very conscious of this. Later on in the book she meets her father’s brother who is the complete opposite of her parents. A shrewd businessman, a bon viveur and a ladies man. Eventually she manages to persuade her uncle to recall his history, back in Hungary.
In any normal circumstances the rest of the book would become one long history lesson but thankfully Grant avoids descending into these territories and keeps her focus on Vivien and how her life relates to her Uncle’s torrid past and the rest of the book deals with this dual life that Vivien experiences until one incident with an ex lover brings out some further truths which shape her outlook on her situation.
As a novel The Clothes… is EXTREMELY readable. Very breezy and Grant’s unpretentious writing style keeps you hooked from beginning and has enough depth to keep your attention.Furthermore as an a Canadian/Maltese immigrant, I was able to notice was Vivien was going through as I wondered about my identity throughout my my mid twenties. I am noticing that the importance of the migrant has been popular this decade with authors like Zadie Smith, Monica Ali and Marina Lewycka and Andrea Levy (just to name a few) have all touched on the subject. A result of the ethnic diversity? hmmmmmmmmmm