In brief: A semi-autobiographical novella of the life of a family in Chelsea.
The good: It’s brilliant – funny, interesting and unputdownable.
The not-so-good: Short.
Why I chose it: Working my way through the Penguin Lines series celebrating 150 years of the Underground.
Setting: The Circle Line and beyond
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Heads and Straights is a fantastic novella detailing Lucy Wadham’s family life growing up in Chelsea with her sisters in the 1970s. It’s semi-autobiographical (the names of her sisters are different), but I’m not sure about the content. It’s almost as though the family story is so outlandish that you couldn’t make it up! Anyway, it really doesn’t matter as the story is fascinating.
The sisters are into everything, such as punk and being as non-Chelsea like as they possibly can (drugs, protests, Mockney accents). Each of the sisters could have their own full length novel about their antics. What is just as fascinating is the story of the girls’ grandmother, who shuns wealth and marriage but reluctantly enters into it when she is given a riding school of her own. Desperate for a divorce, she commits adultery and ends up with a daughter who is her exact opposite – definitely a ‘Straight’, while the girls and their grandmother are all ‘Heads’.
The story moves at a cracking pace, discussing mental health, drug use, time in colonial Africa and the general problems of growing up, especially when your father loses his business. There are some sad moments, but overall the story is upbeat, witty and enthralling. I hadn’t heard of Lucy Wadham prior to this book, but if she writes more about her family I will line up to be the first to buy it.