Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Orange Wednesday: Hearts and Minds (Craig)

Wow! I thought that This is how was a riveting read; Hearts and minds by Amanda Craig was even more gripping and packs more of a punch than anything I've read in 2010 so far. I couldn't describe it as a favourite read, because it's not comforting or feel-good, but it is absolutely tremendous, weaving an intriguing plot around the central theme of Britain's immigrant workers.

There is a large cast of characters. We meet Polly, a human rights lawyer, a white divorced mother of two, who is hugely reliant on Iryna her illegal immigrant au pair, who suddenly mysteriously disappears. We meet Anna, who has come from Lithuania in an attempt to start a new life for herself in England, but finds herself the victim of a prostitute trafficking ring and sold into a brothel. We meet Job, the taxi driver, a teacher in Zimbawbwe, but reduced to driving Londoners around to make a living, and so little thought of by his employers that they don't even use his name, just a number. Katie, an American, came to London to marry an American, but finding out that he was unfaithful just before their wedding, is forced to go it alone - she may be better off than Anna or Job, with her job on a magazine, but she can only afford to rent a flat in the same building as Anna's brothel and finds herself socially isolated and without friends.
The book is also social commentary on the first decade of the twenty-first century; Craig deals with the subjects of failing schools, a not always competent police force, terrorism, and the NHS, giving a fantastic insight into today's London and Great Britain.

I've seen this book compared to Dickens in other reviews, and I think that that is quite a good analogy given the masterful combination of characters, plot and social commentary. But it also fits into the grain of recent books about London life or Great Britain in the noughties- I'm thinking about William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms, Blake Morrison's South of the river and Ian McEwan's Saturday or even Phillip Hensher's Northern Clemency (although that is obviously Sheffield based!)

At the end, Amanda Craig says that some of the characters in this book appear in her other novels; I did read her Love in idleness last year, but it didn't stay with me like this book has done, but I'm now intrigued to read some more of her books, particularly A private place, and A vicious circle. Is anyone else familiar with her? She has a website, and writes here about her experiences which led to writing Hearts and Minds.

Can I also just say that I think that the cover art on this is absolutely fantastic? I love the way that symbols are superimposed over the coloured lettering.

I wasn't intending to stick my neck out and say whether I thought that an Orange longlisted book would make it onto the shortlist, but I will make an exception for this one. Do go and get a copy!


  1. My copy is on order, and I'm hoping to have read it by the time you're back from Cornwall! I have high hopes for this one and I'm pleased to hear of something the seems Orange prize shortlist worthy. So far I've found good books but nothing with that hint of greatness.

  2. I read it just 2-3 weeks ago and have been recommending it to everyone. I've read all of her books, this one was a real departure, as most of the others are quite middle class/academic/whimsical type books along the lines of Barbara Trapido et al. Not to say I haven't enjoyed all of them, but this one really stood out as something a bit different.
    Catherine (catlily)

  3. This is one of those books on the longlist that I'd never previously heard of. Having read your review, I'm now definitely intrigued and have added it to the TBR list.

  4. I've never heard of this one. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. I'll definitely look out for it.

  5. Sounds excellent, thank you for sharing the longlist in this way. It will really help me prioritize my reading!

  6. jane - I'll be interested to know what you think. it's the most prizeworthy of all of the ones that I've read so far.

    Catherine - glad to hear that someone else is recommending it left, right and centre!

    Claire - this is the one I'd recommend you add to your TBR list most.

    Mrs B - Nicola Beaumann herself recommended it to Paperback reader!

    Laura - hi - I hadn't seen your blog before, thanks for stopping in!

  7. I'm not sure how anything can be more gripping than This is How, but i look forward to finding out! I hope I'll get my copy from the library in the next week or two.

  8. I am one of those reviewers who has made the Dickens link, though I would also agree with your contemporary comparisons. I raced through both Hearts and Minds and Ordinary Thundestorms, but it was the former that lingered longer in my memory. I know what you mean about it not being comforting, although there was at least a positive outcome for two of the characters who appealed to me most. Nor is it all grim; I found some of the stuff about the magazine were some of the characters work very amusing. It was so clearly a dig at The Spectator and some of its famous recent contributors like Rod Liddle and Boris Johnson.

    Being only an occasional commenter here, I think this is the first time I've said anything since you announced your engagement. Congratulations to you and your fiance. I do like "happily ever afters"!

  9. I'm so glad to see this. This was one of the books I had to order when I saw the list and now will have to go home and start reading! I also started Ordinary Thunderstorms a while back but got sidetracked, and now will have to pull that out as well again.

  10. I have to agree, Verity. This is one stunning read.

  11. I have heard so many good things about this I've finally gone ahead and ordered it. I am so looking forward to it!

  12. Jackie - I do hope you get your copy soon!

    David - yes, you're right, I didn't mention that there were moments of humour and entertainment alongside the grittyness. Was Ordinary Thunderstorms good? And thank you for the congratulations.

    Danielle - I hope you enjoyed it.

    Lizzy - you sum it up exactly.

    Tara - I hope it arrives soon and that you enjoy it!


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