The setting is the mid-1960s in London. Anna, a young “dresser” for an almost-famous actress who has disappeared, embarks upon a journey to find her. Along the way, she meets Aloysius, a soft-spoken accountant. There is kismet between them, and before long he finds himself entangled in her journey. A mystery of sorts, the novel is so much more.
In all honesty, I am not sure how to express my thoughts about this book which I found quite compelling and its central thread – race. Race, in this day and time of history. Yet, this is precisely why I would like to present it here.
Aloysius. This beautiful character. Included is a Turkish family, but this Jamaican immigrant is the story for me. Originally published in 2017, Emmerson gently nudges him into being a central character. And, by doing so, she brings her experiences, her research (dare I say?) about race in England to the fore. I am not sure if she captures the perspectives or feelings or responses by non-whites at this time, but her writing certainly stopped me on the page and gave me serious reflection; another facet about racism. Any racism. All racism. But, her writing is what informs:
He had gone out of his way to present himself well since he moved here. He had bought a briefcase like the ones he saw English accountants carrying in Kingston. He had invested in a fine suite, made to measure from a tailor’s shop in Croydon. He polished his shoes. He shaved meticulously. The boys in the back rook would tease him about his appearance, calling him a fop and a nancy boy. A gentle man by nature, he had to force every instinct he had to answer back or defend himself from slander. When people laughed at him in meetings he smiled and allowed them to have their moment of humor; when he was refused service in a pub or café he packed up his things and left quietly; when men made monkey noises on the bus he moved his seat. He was fighting the assumptions of the English with every weapon in his arsenal but nine times out of ten he was left feeling empty, exhausted, and defeated.”p 86
Hundreds of years of this multiplied by tens of thousands, millions. Day in and day out. Across the world. Unrelenting.
How does one soul keep going?