This book is one of the four books that have been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards in the First Novel category. If I’m honest it was the one I was least drawn to but in the interests of completeness I had to read it as I’d read the other three. I have reviewed The Haunting Of Henry Twist here and Montpelier Parade here. Both books I adored.
The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times is the story of a young girl named Lucy who is orphaned and sent to live with her failing publican grandparents just after the First World War. Every Sunday Lucy is taken in the back of a van with two other young girls and a boy to visit the ‘Funny Men’ in the grounds of a country house estate. The Funny Men are disabled and injured soldiers who find themselves on the periphery of society now that the war has ended and they have served their purpose.
They are all given names pertaining to The Wizard Of Oz characters, Toto, Tinman, Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion. Now these men pay for the children to ‘entertain’ them in the worst way. I must say that this subject matter was very dark, but quite sensitively written, even though it is still stomach churningly wrong.
What ensues afterwards changes Lucy’s life and the lives of the Funny Men irrevocably. This is a story of class and loneliness. At times there are what felt to me like magical elements to this story, it has quite an ephemeral feeling to it. Especially the parts of the story involving the master of the house where the Funny Men reside.
There are some god awful characters doing god awful things but some of them deserve a little sympathy I feel. The hard hitting subject matters of child prostitution, drug abuse and post war trauma are really very elegantly written. That sounds odd even as I type it, but I suppose what I mean is it’s not graphic or lurid.
What happened to the men who fought for our country and died or returned home with extremely life changing or life limiting injuries is a fascinating subject. The men who found themselves as outcasts in mainstream society. Not only that but the stories of the wives and children they left behind. It’s heartbreaking stuff.
When I started reading this book I got around 50 pages in and boldly put out a tweet that I may have to reconsider my winner of this award. Having now finished the book I can say that I really enjoyed the reading experience if not the subject matter entirely, but I have not changed my mind on who the winner should be……I might keep my powder dry on that one a little longer though……
See you soon.
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