The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love
|The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Susmita Chatto|
|Summary: A skilfully written novel about the overlapping lives of two very different London families in the World War Two era.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 308||Date: December 2014|
|Publisher: Quartet Books|
In Soho in 1937, Italian singer Antonio has found himself a wealthy patron. His patron’s wife, Olivia, is known to Antonio from a chance encounter at the Paradise Ballroom - and the spark they felt on that meeting starts to deepen as war begins to creep up on them. In an uncertain world, everything about their lives is under threat – the government perceives foreigners as threats and the war wreaks havoc with nerves and relationships.
The central characters, Olivia and Antonio, come from entirely different backgrounds. Olivia has no family worth speaking of, no political inclinations and has had to make her own way and her own living from a very young age. Olivia leaves this behind as she moves from the seedy world of the Paradise Ballroom to the privileged one of a rich man’s wife. Antonio comes from a very close Italian family, now making a living from a kiosk in Soho, and is surrounded by friends and relatives, stiflingly so at times.
I found Olivia hugely likeable and relatable, mostly due to her independence, which is not at all compromised by her marriage. Antonio is more of a biddable man and his wife, Danila, is mostly noticeable for being a wet blanket, prone to unnecessary tears. Antonio shows no signs of finding any of this problematic and this made him rather unappealing for me. The author portrays all her characters with so much colour and depth they really come to life; in fairness, this is partly why Danila is so annoying – I felt as if she was in the room with me, whining about nothing! It is a skill to create someone who is so irritating but at times it spoiled the flow a little bit for me and I was relieved to get back to the others.
I felt much more comfortable reading about Olivia, her husband Bernard, and Antonio’s sister Filomena because they were so independent. It is these characters who really push the story forward. The book switches between stories and it was not until near the end that I started to find Antonio’s sections just as interesting as the others.
Love has great skills in observing human behaviour. Her portrayals of falling in love, suddenly or slowly, and feeling it wane, are hugely moving; she knows exactly the right words to choose. There are many points in the novel where just one sentence conveys sentiments which another author might have taken pages to express. With Love’s skills, a huge depth of emotion is achieved in short phrases and at times I stopped to think about what she had written for much longer than I took to read the line in question. Sometimes human frailty and despair can be seen in one small gesture and Love has taken these and made them mean everything; they appear almost as little bits of film on the page. The language used for each character is also a perfect fit, another contributing factor in making them so wonderfully real.
Friendship and the human impact of politics account for a large part of the novel too. There are several stories of London’s experience in the war and all the history Love has chosen for the novel is directly relevant. The fear felt by foreigners living in England during war time is fully explored and the chaos of living with a government under the worst kind of pressure is clearly shown.
This character-driven novel of love and fear in war time London is beautifully, subtly and skilfully written and will appeal to many types of reader. Many thanks to the publishers for sending a copy to Bookbag.
If this book appeals then you will probably also enjoy The English Girl by Margaret Leroy.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.