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Once Upon A Time In England by Helen Walsh

Once Upon A Time In England

by Helen Walsh

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The title of Helen Walsh’s novel sounds like a fairy tale, and the opening chapters feel like one—albeit one grounded in modern-day realities. When the novel opens, young crooner Robbie Fitzgerald is running around Warrington trying to make arrangements to sing for the great talent agent Dickie Vaughan. Vaughan is transfixed by Robbie's singing, and Robbie’s dreams appear to be about to come true.

Meanwhile, Robbie's pregnant wife, Susheela, who is originally from Malaysia, waits at home with their five-year-old son, unaware of this opportunity and therefore worrying about Robbie’s absence. What happens is worse than her worst imaginings. A racially motivated violent attack forces the family to put dreams aside and find a way to live in the aftermath of a nightmare.

Walsh looks in on the family at three different points in time: 1975, when the novel opens; 1981, after the family has moved to a safer area; and 1989, when the children are starting to find their own way in the world. The initial tragedy haunts the Fitzgeralds, even those in the family who do not know exactly what happened. But that’s not all there is to this story; otherwise, it’s much more than a simple story of the evils of racism. We see hate that comes in many forms—homophobia, classism, and even self-loathing.

Walsh carefully treads the line between making her characters into beaten-upon victims and engineers of their own destruction. The various Fitzgeralds suffer because of prejudice and hate, but they also suffer at their own hands. But even as the Fitzgeralds act in foolish, irresponsible, even infuriating ways, Walsh writes of them with compassion. And her compassionate tone made me care about this family.

I liked this novel very much, even though it was utterly heart-breaking. The end tore me to shreds. There are some scenes of violence, and one scene of violence against a woman, is described with an uncomfortable level of detail. But to me, it never felt exploitive. And it’s also never preachy, as some “issue” novels tend to be.

See my complete review at Shelf Love. ( )
3 vote teresakayep | Mar 5, 2010 |
A story about an inter-racial marriage between Robbie (Irish) and Susheela (Malay) who live in the industrially declining north of England town of Warrington in the 1970's. He's a factory worker and part time cabaret singer and she's a nurse and they have two children, Vincent and Ellie.

Walsh knows what she is writing about (I was unfortunately there), catching the overwhelming working class bias of the times, with its drinking, anti-culturalism and racism. It's the racism at various points in the story that eventually ruins some lives that could have worked. The result is a bleak account of dull acceptance, escapism and alienation.

As far as I can see, the only respectable person in this story is Susheela, and she is unprepared for this environment with her kindness being abused by everyone, making a genuinely sad and moving theme.

The writing is self consciously arty and somehow flat, and with regard to the gay, drugs and music sections, Spencer Bright did a better job in Boy George's autobiography, "Take it Like a Man", so overall a good book but a depressing number of sleazy people and bad situations. ( )
  Miro | Jan 24, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I approached this book with trepidation and then loved it. Mainy set in the 1980s in an England which I recognised. The story of a mixed race marriage and its consequences had wonderful characters despite a tragic theme.Great. ( )
  louiseog | Dec 29, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I didn't get into the novel at all. It was grim and I found it just wan't gripping at all ( )
  kateleversuch | Nov 4, 2009 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A well written powerful novel both grim and yet compulsive reading.
Strong characters and plot, recommended for those that like their reads hard hitting rather than cosy. ( )
  seanat | Nov 3, 2009 |
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'In your town .... people see with their own eyes what they dread, the transformation during their own lifetime ... of towns, cities and areas that they know into alien territory.'
Enoch Powell

'Everyone, after all, goes the same dark road - and the road has a trick of being most dark, most treacherous, when it seems most bright - and it's true that nobody stays in the Garden of Eden.'
James Baldwin
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with love.

And in memory of Kristy Jones
Lidia Fiems
Lee Turner.
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Out on the plains, the icy urban plains, a flame-haired young man was belting down the street, his two-tone shoes sliding skidding away from his knees.
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On the coldest night of 1975, a young man with shock-red hair tears though the snowbound streets of Warrington's toughest housing estate. He is Robbie Fitzgerald, and he is running for his life - and that of his young family. In his heart, Robbie knows the odds are stacked against them. In this unbending Northern town, he has married the beautiful brown nurse who once stitched up his wounds. Susheela is his Tamil Princess, but in the real world, the Fitzgeralds have to face up to prejudice, poverty and sheer naked hatred from their neighbours. Now Robbie has seen a way out, and he's sprinting to his date with destiny...
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It's the coldest night of 1975, and Robbie Fitzgerald is running for his life and for that of his young family. 'Once Upon a Time in England' spans two decades of struggle, aspiration, achievement, misunderstandings, near-misses and shattered dreams. Helen Walsh's first novel, 'Brass' was the winner of a Betty Trask Prize.… (more)

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Average: (3.83)
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Canongate Books

2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

Editions: 1841958689, 1847671233

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