Publisher: 4th Estate
Publication date: 30th March 2023
Split into four parts and set at the point that the uk was in the height of covid lockdown rules To Battersea Park by Philip Hensher opens with one man, a published author, observing the streets and world around him in very different ways than before lockdown occurred.
Living with his partner they both treat the endless days of nothing as a chance to experience the comfort of the day panning out with small punctuations of previously meaningless tasks that now delineate the day, making the morning coffee, baking the morning bread, reading a novel between breakfast and lunch, observing the neighbours and their behaviour, and going for their allotted 1 hour exercise outside of the house. However the author seems to have lost his inspiration and impetus to write.
All the free time means the men can observe their neighbours in close quarters where before they would have been busy with their own lives. They chat with Gio and Stuart nextdoor, observe their illegal family gatherings. They watch a man across the street they dub The Stalinist who pastes pictures of past labour prime ministers in his window and then of course theres the jogger..
The writer muses on how different the streets are, quiet and subdued, punctuated only with other neighbours taking their daily walks or joggers running past, too close for comfort for the writer. He has time to notice the types of trees in their area, previously unnoticed trees and the imported Pomelo trees of a neighbouring woman.
In part two the neighbourhood opens out to the reader and where previously we were inside the writers head we now split off to meet various other characters that are linked to the writer in some way or another. We meet his parents, his mother with dementia and his father her carer. We meet a woman known as The Builders Wife, a woman who is being pushed closer to the edge by working from home, zoom meetings, looking after her adult stepchildren and the fact that her husband The Builder is currently furloughed and hanging around the house all the time.
In part three we’ve moved forward in time to a point where lockdown has developed into something we’ve not seen before. Shops are closed, supermarkets looted, electricity has failed, water is in scant supply, the postal service has ceased to exist, social media and government updates are a thing of the past. Against a backdrop of sinister violence two men take a walk……
The book ends with the writer contracting the virus along with his partner and we meet again the jogger and his family….
It’s not for everyone to read books surrounding the pandemic. I didn’t think it would be for me entirely but it prompted me to remember certain points of that time. I gelled with certain parts more than others but overall I enjoyed Hensher’s writing style. I really liked the end section which is something of a fever dream with a touch of the dystopian. I have read that parts of this book are auto-fiction which gives it more depth overall for me. If pandemic retrospectives are not your bag then steer clear, otherwise give it a whirl!
Thank you to 4th Estate for my review copy
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookishchat x