Rose Tremain’s The Road Home was the Reading Group’s book for July. I had already read the book, so I decided to listen to the audio version this time. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the audiobook is also very good. The reader is Steven Pacey and he does an excellent job in voicing all the different characters.
The Road Home is the personal Odyssey of Lev as he journeys from his homeland to London and back home again. His homeland is an unspecified east European country, now a member of the EU. From the descriptions of the place it sounds like one of the more deprived and desolated parts of the Ukraine. But as the Ukraine is not in the EU, it is more likely to be some equally desolate part of Poland.
Lev has chosen to leave his home as he has lost his job in the local timber factory, which has closed as all the trees have been destroyed. His wife, Marina died a few years earlier, from leukemia and he lives with his mother and young daughter. The loss of his wife was particularly devastating, and a major theme running through the novel is how to deal with, and if possible, overcome loss. With little or no prospects at home he decides to try his fortune in London.
Though Lev is the central character in the novel and every chapter is about him, this is not a straightforward voyage. For a start, though most of the time Lev is in London, he is constantly reminiscing and reflecting on his life back home. Thus we learn all about Lev, his parents, his wife, his daughter, and most significantly, about his best friend Rudy, who has remained back home.
While in London Lev of course meets up with a cross section of people form modern London. While he does suffer some hardships and is at one stage mugged and robbed, on the whole he is met with kindness and friendship. He also comes across some of the other economic migrants from his homeland. In some respects the novel is a paean to multi-cultural London, as Lev is helped on his way by people from all kinds of backgrounds.
As a result of his forced sojourn in London Lev comes to re-evaluate his live. He finds a regular job in an upmarket restaurant and discovers that he not only likes this work, but is in fact a very good cook. His dream is now to return home and open his own restaurant, in memory of his dead wife, Marina. The remaining part of the book is about Lev’s attempts to bring this dream to reality. In this there is a parallel tale about Christy, with whom he lodges for most of his time in London. Christy also has a daughter who he never sees as she now lives with his estranged wife. Fast declining into drunkenness, Christy is revived by Lev and slowly begins to recover.
Though entitled The Road Home, Lev doesn’t actually end up back home, though he does return to his own country. By the end Lev has realized that there is nothing to be gained by trying to return to a past that has gone. So, though home in one sense, it is not the home he left and Lev is no longer the same Lev who started out on his voyage. A new life and new challenges beckon.
This is the second novel by Rose Tremain that I have read. This was very good. The first was Music and Silence, which is a wonderful tale about love and suffering in mid 17th century Denmark. I would definitely recommend both books.