two caravans

June 5, 2008

Today, this year’s women-only (authors, not readers) Orange Fiction Prize, was awarded to Rose Tremain for her book The Road Home. The overall theme seems similar to that of the book I finished last night, Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka, on the experiences of Eastern European immigrants in Britain. I have a feeling that Tremain’s book will be a lot less funny than Lewycka’s, as the latter is really a fantastically jolly romp through the misery of minimum wage jobs and exploitative employers.

It would be curmudgeonly to begrudge Two Caravans its generally chirpy characters from Malawi, Ukraine, Poland and China as they are what make this book. They all start out as strawberry pickers one summer in Kent, but the job goes wrong and the group takes off in one of the caravans each with their own goals in mind. What follows is pretty slapstick in tone (both good and bad), though the twists and turns through restaurant kitchens and nursing homes did get a little tired after yet another speedy escape from an evil mobster/chicken farm owner/random angry person.

The voices of all the characters are fairly sincere, only occasionally laying it on extra thick for comic effect (the temptation of which must be huge). And considering its light-hearted tack, the book even does relatively well as a commentary on the social and economic ramifications of immigration. Entertaining while it lasted but still, not a keeper for me. Lewycka’s first book, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was funnier and had less of a kiddies’ adventure book feel to it if you fancy trying her.

One last thing – why oh why is the cover illustration on this book at a skewy angle? At first I thought they were all poor scannings, until I found the copy I was reading had just the same… anyone?


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