Lead Review

  • Book: Victoria Park
  • Location: East London
  • Author: Gemma Reeves

Review Author: Tina Hartas



Set over twelve months, Gemma Reeves’ debut novel Victoria Park offers a multi-perspective narrative, focusing on different characters for each month and chapter.  All the characters live in and around the park and their lives, whilst completely different from each other are, nonetheless inextricably entwined.  So, she is able to offer the reader a perspective on modern life in a community in London, a perspective that doesn’t shy away from the complexities and inequalities, but still emphasises humanity and acceptance.

The opening chapter, October, introduces us to Mona and Wolfie, originally Kindertransport children, now married for 65 years and beginning to struggle with issues of declining health.  Mona has developed Alzheimer’s, is becoming increasingly confused and Wolfie is facing the possibility that he might not be able to safely continue to care for her. Wolfie has run a kosher deli throughout his entire married life, preparing delicious food and offering feasts to his neighbours and now he is forced to accept that he needs to hand over the reins to his assistant Luca.

In subsequent chapters the focus shifts to other residents, struggling to cope with a wide range of contemporary issues – there is a teenage boy trying to come to terms with his sexuality, aided in his journey by a sympathetic friend; a lesbian couple going through the process of IVF treatment, a family rocked by and re-building after infidelity and a bitter old woman unable to live independently any longer who has lost trust in the world.   There is a sense of community involvement in the way that these characters lives intertwine.  One after another they all pop into the deli for something and they are connected, too, in their reactions to a random acid attack on a young boy in the park recently, a crime that remains unresolved and unexplained throughout the book. The writer makes us aware also of the way in which the area is changing. As older residents die, the houses are gobbled up by the wealthy, those who perhaps may not want to be part of the community.

There is a real sense of place in Victoria Park.  This area of East London is portrayed as a vibrant, urban community and Reeves’ writing brings it to life wonderfully.  The novel is filled with descriptions of the sights, sounds and tastes of the area.  We are acutely aware of the seasons changing and the effect of the weather and changing landscape of the park on the residents.  There is wonderfully observed detail – Wolfie smoking his salmon in the wooden shed he had built in the garden for this purpose so many years ago and Freddy’s May birthday party, suffocating in the new summer’s heat and even more suffocating because of the press of Italian relatives and their expectations.

Many of the narratives are moving and poignant and the reader feels that we have been allowed right inside their lives if only for a short time.  As the year passes and Autumn comes around again the novel takes us back to Wolfie and Mona once again, as their lives inevitably move on.

This is a wonderful debut novel, completely absorbing and a joy from start to finish.

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