Ridley Road by Jo Bloom (audiobook)

In brief: Vivien moves to London after the death of her father to follow Jack, a man she had a short and intense romance with. But Jack’s not the man she thinks he is and both get tangled in the affairs of the fascist and anti-fascist groups in 1960s East London.

The good: An interesting time period I knew next to nothing about.

The not-so-good: The story moved from Vivien as the main character to more about Jack in the latter half and the tone of the book changed from being rather light to dark and serious.

Why I chose it: Liked the cover.

Year: 2014

Duration: 8 hours and 30 minutes (paperback is 320 pages)

Narrator: Harriet Carmichael

Publisher: W&N (Hachette)

Setting: London

My rating: 7 out of 10

When I first saw the cover of Ridley Road, I was hooked. I loved how the title looked like a street sign and the clearly 1960s photograph. So it sounded like a good choice to start my Audible membership with. Harriet Carmichael does a great job of narrating the story and she manages to make each character sound slightly different. The story, however, was a little jumpy for me. The content, covering the rise of fascist movement in London in 1960s, was great. I knew nothing about that period and I find that reading fiction based around actual events improves my knowledge greatly. But the story moves from being about Vivien, a hairdresser who moves to London after her father dies to look for a lost love to a political thriller. Poor old Vivien, cutting away happily, gets pushed into the corner while Jack, her lover takes over. Jack is a newspaper man who has gone undercover to investigate the fascist group that is planning to make a comeback. They’re vandalising Jewish businesses and places of worship and printing out propaganda. As Jack gets more involved with Vivien (who is Jewish), he struggles to maintain his cover and composure. Will he make it out to file his story?

I think the first half of this book is dramatically different to the second part, which is why it didn’t work so well for me. Vivien’s story is a romance/coming of age one, with her trying to find Jack in London and making new friends. She’s also trying to avoid the attentions of Stevie, a boy who thinks she’s just great. I went from feeling sorry for Stevie with his slave like devotion to Vivien to just being annoyed when he was around. He’s rather immature with a knack for getting in trouble. Plus the way he followed Vivien and Jack around town was more stalker-ish than cute. When Jack makes his reappearance, things move to being from his point of view. We hear more about the things he’s involved and the danger he’s facing. This part had more of a thriller feel and less of the charm of Vivien’s story. I think if I’d been more prepared that the story was going to change tone dramatically, I would have enjoyed things more.

As Vivien reappears in what is now Jack’s story, it’s obvious that this young lady from Manchester has grown up. Gone is her naivety, replaced with a composure and grace to help the man she loves. She’s also calm in the face of a radical group trying to destroy her faith. Jack too undergoes a revelation as tensions between the fascists and anti-fascists heat up. He realises that he isn’t Superman and that is what brings he and Vivien even closer.

While the history was fascinating for me, the change in pace and focus in this book didn’t work overly well for me. I would be interested to read more by Jo Bloom, as she has a great ability to bring history to life.

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