Monday, 8 May 2017
Of Love and Hunger by Julian Maclaren-Ross Review
Set in pre-war South England, a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman called Fanshawe is asked by his mate to look after his wife Sukie while he’s away at sea. The naiveté of some folk, eh? Fanshawe and Sukie end up having an affair, but, with the ever-encroaching spectre of war and the uptight morals of 1930s British society, what will become of their love?
On paper, Of Love and Hunger sounds like a mundane romance novel but Julian Maclaren-Ross’s witty and unique storytelling, crystal clear social realism, cracking dialogue and sharp characterisation turns it into something special.
Though it was published in 1947, it still reads very well today - the only problem I had was with the currency which was all bob this and guinea that; no clue how much we were talking about! The writing is very modern and quickly paced so I was always engaged, the focus on characters doing things with many pages given over purely to rapid-fire, interesting dialogue.
Maclaren-Ross writes a compelling and fascinating portrait of this era of British history, showing us what life was like for working-class people in places like London and Brighton - a hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth existence, living in grimy rented rooming houses, being chased by creditors left and right, something which was very reflective of the author’s own difficult life as well.
Despite that, the tone of the book is never maudlin or tries to make you feel sorry for the characters. Maclaren-Ross strikes a nice balance between the romance and the amusing vacuum cleaner demonstrations that go awry, and the bleak realism of living just above the poverty line with Hitler gearing up for war just across the Channel.
Fanshawe and Sukie are fully-realised, likeable characters who feel like real people and their up-and-down romance was convincing. Other characters also jumped off the page like Heliotrope, the larger-than-life con-artist, and Smiler, Fanshawe’s backstabbing crooked colleague.
I really liked Of Love and Hunger but I can also see why it’s more-or-less faded into obscurity today. The story isn’t that memorable and it’s not an Important Novel like the kind Maclaren-Ross’s more famous contemporary George Orwell produced in this era. But it’s very well-written and a great read - a hidden gem of 1940s British literature that’s worth checking out. Fans of Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square will definitely enjoy this one too.