- Book: That Girl
- Location: Chelsea
- Author: Kate Kerrigan
It is 1966 and three Irish girls are drawn to swinging London, to the Kings Road, Chelsea, where they end up sharing a seedy flat. On the face of it, the three have little in common. Hanna is a quiet, demure and very beautiful girl, who has little aspiration beyond being a superb homemaker. Lara is confident, clever and talented and utterly determined to make it as a fashion designer. Noreen, feisty and fatter than was fashionable in the sixties, is simply intent on grabbing a bit of the sexual freedom that she feels she’s missing out on in Ireland. But, dig a little deeper, and there are similarities. All three are fleeing things in their past: Hanna is running from a very damaged past and a hideous crime; Lara is escaping a broken heart and bitter betrayal; and Noreen is intent on avoiding what she thinks will be a dead-end marriage. All three girls end up working for notorious gangster, Bobby Chevron, and inevitably find that their pasts begin to catch up with them.
That Girl is Kate Kerrigan at her accomplished best. The plotting is tight with some surprising twists and a dramatic, very exciting and satisfying ending. The characterisation is clever, quirky and funny, particularly the irrepressible Noreen, who is infuriatingly crass and nosy and yet still manages to convince us of the loving nature lurking underneath.
This is skilful writing and Kerrigan’s evocation of 60’s London is masterful. She recreates the sense of a vibrant metropolis, where young people are free to express themselves and the air positively buzzes with excitement and possibility, but also reminds us of all that was negative about that time. Despite the massive changes happening in the 1960’s Kerrigan makes it clear that women were still very far from achieving equality. She gives the outspoken Noreen some wonderful things to say about men and women at the time. In That Girl gangsters rule much of London, violence is very much the norm and prejudice is everywhere. Kerrigan has certainly done her research and it tells in the wonderful detail, such as the sign outside the boarding houses “No Dogs, no Blacks, no Irish.” For those of us who lived through the 60’s and have a tendency to look back with rose-tinted glasses, it is a powerful reality check.
The test of really good story-telling is that it engages you so completely that the real world doesn’t intrude and where there are no flaws in the narration or the prose to pull you up. That Girl does all this. If you love getting lost in a book, then this is the one for you!