I give this book five stars because I feel grateful to the author for making me laugh out loud several times. Berthold is fifty-ish, a ‘resting’ actor whom divorce and lack of work have driven to live with his redoubtable mother Lily. He was named for Lubetkin, who designed the block of flats they live in and with whom Lily claims to have had an affair. When Lily dies, Berthold panics that the ‘Bedroom Tax’ will lose him the flat, so he persuades a Ukrainian woman, Inna, to move in and pretend to be his mother. How can he possibly get away with it? Cue many a farcical scene.
Inna is a wonderful character with a bizarre use of English (‘You homosexy, Bertie?’) and a strange nostalgia for the great days of the Soviet Union. Some of the other residents are equally eccentric; ‘Mrs Crazy’ for instance, with her hair-do permanently covered in plastic and Legless Len, forever optimistic in spite of his wheelchair. Many of the flats are already privately owned, thanks to the right to buy. Plus, developers have their eyes on the area. The flats were designed with a pretty grove of cherry trees in front; a pleasant outlook and a meeting place. With shades of The Cherry Orchard (which gets a mention), there’s a plan to cut down the trees and put up a large new development right in front of the Lubetkin flats. The scene in which the residents fight off the chainsaw men is terrific and very funny. Go Mrs Crazy!
Another active campaigner is Violet, a beautiful half Kenyan girl who takes over the flat next to Berthold’s for a while. She’s just got her dream job with an investment company, only to find that it’s a cover for money laundering and global corruption, all taken for granted by the people who work there. She decides she can’t cope with it and starts looking for another job. If I were being really picky, I’d take a star from my rating because for me Violet’s story doesn’t gell with the rest of the book. She could have a novel of her own.
This is very much a ‘how we live now’ book, set very firmly in present day London. Although it’s funny, it’s also angry; angry about the betrayal of the post-war ideals typified by Lubetkin’s work. ‘This council building no longer housed the benign supportive state that Lubetkin and his post-war colleagues had tried to engineer, but a bossy, intrusive, policing ‘Them’ whose role was to keep the undeserving poor in their place.’
The Lubetkin Legacy will be published by Penguin on 5th May. I read it courtesy of NetGalley and enjoyed it very much. You may like to read the author’s amusing biography here .