Review published on June 9, 2017.
It is five years since the Great War finished and the country is still shattered. Casualties from the war abound, and some of who have suffered the most are sheltering in Epping Forest. Lucy Marsh and her brother Tom have been orphaned and live with their grandparents in a struggling pub on the grimy streets of north London. As money is tight, they have been dispatched to Grantwood House, home of Lord Hertford, where men from the war are convalescing. But there are four of these ‘funny men’ who have suffered horrific injuries who have called themselves after characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, that is, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, Toto and the Lion. Each week Lucy and Winifred climb into an old army lorry to go and see these men, to offer them comfort and companionship.
Circumstances mean that those visits stop and Lucy and the others end up spending lots more time on the estate and come into increased contact with the repulsive Rupert, son of Lord Hertford. He has drawn in a large number of oddballs and outcasts and proceeds to ply them with increasing amounts of cocaine, the drug of the future supposedly… But that future might already be starting to unravel for Lucy.
I loved the title of the book, which was the thing that drew me to it originally. Drawing on the deepest elements of folklore and the forest, Brooks has written a book that cannot be described as comforting at all. The writing is not fast paced and it borders on the surreal at times, full of subtle euphemisms as the dark plot is revealed little by little. However, it is compelling. If it has one flaw, it took a while to get going as Brooks has lots of characters to place in the story, but once I was there I read this in just a couple of days. A great debut novel and one that rewards you for sticking with it.
Paul Cheney 4/3
The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks
Salt Publishing 9781784630935 pbk Apr 2017
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