A Place of Safety by Tamsin Reeves
There are lots of reasons to take in a lodger for your spare room, but for Martha one of the best is to get one up on her recently departed scoundrel of an ex-husband. And it's not like her financial situation is looking too rosy since he left her for another woman – a woman who is also pregnant with his child. The fact that her lodger is a He, and that he's a Foreigner (and from Afghanistan, no less) is just the icing on the cake. Colin's going to be furious, and Martha can't wait.
|A Place of Safety by Tamsin Reeves|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Zoe Morris|
|Summary: Racist taunts jostle with family crises and class wars in this unusual yet intriguing debut. A story with a lot of threads, they do more or less tie up in the end.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 284||Date: December 2008|
And, yet, as she gets to know Ismail, the asylum seeker in the attic, Martha discovers his usefulness goes beyond merely being an annoying decoy for her ex. He can cook, he's useful at doing the bloke stuff about the house, and the kids adore him. She's even starting to enjoy having him around. But, when her cleaner's daughter goes missing, and suspicions fall on her new friend, she begins to question how much we really know about the people in our lives.
This is a very interesting book that is quirky and unusual both in theme and tone. Despite the initial set-up (man leaves woman for his new girlfriend, woman is sad) this is in no way chick lit, but a much darker story with a subtle humour to it. It boasts a degree of suspense too, though I thought the mystery appeared a little late in the day and was then rushed through, and the underlying current of small town racism adds an extra spin to the proceedings. Martha's eccentric family brings a further dimension – two very different sisters and a rather loony mother compliment the two children who seem positively normal in comparison.
There were a couple of confusing things about the story as I read. The class difference between the two women was not as immediately obvious to me as it seemed to be to Betty, and I thought this was overplayed. At the same time it wasn't utterly clear to me until the end that this tale was set in a pre-September 11th world – I had assumed much of the racial tensions being portrayed were as a result of the attacks and not a precursor to them. It doesn't matter, per se, but it does influence certain parts of the story if you know this in advance.
The story is quite a busy one and it flits between different narrators and different settings including the local comprehensive where Martha teaches, but they don't all get equal weight, and while Betty, for example, gets to take over the story at certain points, her parts can end quite abruptly as the focus returns to Martha and Ismail in the here and now. Equally, Ismail's dreams/flashbacks didn't progress the story, except to give you more of a feel for what he was going through, and while the first few were interesting, I don't think the later ones added much.
I enjoyed the story but doubt it's one I would want to re-read. This is almost a criticism of its uniqueness: I'm not sure it's one I'll forget in a hurry. The writing is stunted in places but it's not too difficult to get in to, and to a certain extent I was keen or at least interested to know what would happen next. While I wouldn't class it as the most polished book I've read recently, it was certainly one of the most curious.
Thanks go to the author for sending us this title to review.
The war is very much in the background of this book. For a more frontline approach, why not consider Jeremy Bowen's War Stories. For more fiction, this time set in Afghanistan and with many similar themes we can recommend No More Mulberries by Mary Smith.
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You can read more book reviews or buy A Place of Safety by Tamsin Reeves at Amazon.com.
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