Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones

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Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A woman leaves Tunis for Europe as an illegal immigrant on her way to Berlin to find her son who has been abducted. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: November 2010
Publisher: John Murray
ISBN: 978-1848544789

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Ines – although it's a little while before we know her by that name – has quite a story to tell, but we don't hear it from her. We listen to the stories told by people who knew her. They might have worked with her at a hotel on the Arabian Sea or in Tunisia. They might have known her name, but nothing quite so personal as her birthday. She was a good worker, used to anticipating what the guests would need but otherwise being invisible. This might have gone on indefinitely, but she met Jermayne, black like Ines, who taught her to swim. He also gave her what she thought was love and a child, which he then abducted. Ines' story is her journey to Berlin to retrieve her son.

We only hear Ines' story later and we'll know then that some of what we've already heard is perhaps distorted or unreliable. Or is Ines entirely reliable as a narrator? By then we'll have seen and accepted a side of life which we'd hope never to encounter – prostitution, theft and illegal immigration and a very casual approach to the sanctity of human life. We'll suspect that we know what Ines is capable of, know that it's wrong and still wonder if we might do the same thing in the search for a child. Perhaps even more worryingly we will hope that Ines will succeed.

Whenever I read Lloyd Jones I wonder quite how he can produce such complex characters and a detailed plot in so few words. The writing is direct and of unbelievable clarity – it shines from the page and reading just a little more is irresistible. I finished the book in two sitting – and if I hadn't been forced to put the book down at the end of the first it would have been just the one.

Ines is one of the forgotten people, the ones we prefer to keep invisible despite knowing that they exist. Lloyd Jones has done a wonderful job of shining a light on the people who come to our 'developed' countries in the hope of something better and cease to matter to anyone, sometimes even themselves. It's never preachy, but it's a point well and tellingly made.

It's some days now since I finished reading the book, but Ines is still remarkably fresh in my mind. She's a heroine for our modern world.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For more about the life of an immigrant we can recommend The Road Home by Rose Tremain and Harare North by Brian Chikwava. If you haven't yet read Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones then you really should.

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