Waters quickly presents us with these people and their situations. We begin to ask questions. Why was Duncan in prison and what is his relationship with Mr Mundy? Why does Viv return a ring to Kay? What does Julia mean when she accuses a jealous Helen of having been unfaithful?
We return to 1943 as fire bombs rain down on a war-weary London. Kay is an ambulance driver, Duncan a prisoner. And we start to understand the answers to at least some of our questions.
Finally we visit 1941 to find out why what started it all off.
An interesting exploration of life and love amongst a few inter-connected people in wartime Britain.
Some interesting quotes:
- "one of those women ... who'd charged about so happily during the war." (p 7)
- "'You were in the Brownies weren't you?' 'Well they rather jibbed, you know, at Pale Ale, in my pack.'" (p 53)
- "What did she have, to keep Julia faithful? She had only herself: her pressed-meat thighs, her onion face ..." (p 60)
- "the yard, for ten to fifteen minutes, was like a sink with its plug pulled." (p 81)
- "Hungry dogs will eat dirty puddings." (p 232)
- He "rubbed his face - rubbed it in that vigorous unself-conscious way in which men always handled their own faces, and girls never did."
There are one or two moments of perfect authorly technique:
- A well-meaning stranger comes along and, with the best and most innocent (we think) of intentions, provides a nudge which swirls the whole thing along.
- Viv has been searching for lesbian Kay. She saw her in the streets and is trying to find her again. Can it be that Viv, having an affair with married Reggie, has had a lesbian experience? After all, Duncan her brother is gay. And when Viv meets Kay: "She took out the ring, in its cloth, from her pocket, and just touched Kay's arm ... It only took a minute or two. It was the easiest thing she'd ever done." And we are still none the wiser but we know that there was a ring and it must have immense significance. Was this a final rejection of the affair? This was a moment when we learned a little more and the darkness in which we were suspended got even darker. Brilliant!
- Of course the whole thing was an exercise in this. Telling a story (chronologically) backwards is an interesting art: the point is that the reader has to want to know not what happened as a consequence but why it happened. So we quickly learn, for example, that Duncan has been in jail and we are taken back to why he went to jail.