Review published on June 7, 2017.
Set in the 1920s near Epping Forest, this is a quirky and utterly weird telling of a story that captures the impact war has had in the most unusual yet colourful way. Initially, the depiction of these characters and their lives feels completely bizarre, but as you get pulled into this deranged way of living, you do begin to find yourself immersed in all of its eccentric ways.
It essentially follows the teenage life of Lucy Marsh, a young girl being brought up by her grandparents after losing her parents. She is expected to often miss school and work in their bar without pay. For a youngster, she pragmatically takes it in all her stride.
One Sunday she is invited into the woods, for which her Nan readies her and sets her off in a floral print dress. A few other youngsters, Edith, John and Winifred, accompany her in the truck. They meet several disfigured men, with nicknames akin to the Wizard of Oz. The meetings with their games and treats prove to be successful and so each week Lucy along with the others are taken to the forest to keep the funny men company.
The visits transform into more than just keeping these men company. There are troubles associated with the visits and their ministrations. Feeling exploited, Lucy and Edith end up living at the house the funny men rent, which is in the grounds of the capacious manor home of the bumptious Fortnum-Hyde. They manage to imbue themselves into the manor house and experience the excess, alcohol and drugs that are consumed amongst the many flamboyant visitors that attend. Life and the relationships formed take a darker turn and the excesses do take their toll.
Whilst this is essentially about an alternate coming of age, set at a time when people are trying to adjust and cope post war, there is focus on living to excess, without care for the consequences and how for some, non-conformity is embraced. There is rising tension and dense escalating drama running through the story. There is offset by some limited and subtle dark humour. But in all, people are trying to make sense of the world and deal with the fall out of war. The perspectives of the soldiers with life changing injuries is unforgettable. The characters are strong, bold and intriguing. But ultimately we are all vulnerable, and perhaps there is a deeper thread about how we choose to live despite such vulnerability whilst also being true to ourselves.
Sara Garland 4/4
The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks
Salt Publishing 9781784630935 pbk Apr 2017