It's the story of seven girls/women who live on Union Street. It is definately not a comfort read. This is real poverty. Not the 'we used to be rich but now we're living in a tumbling pile, at least we have Granny's fur stole to keep us warm' type poor. This is 'thank my lucky stars I hopefully will never live like this and what can I do to make sure other people don't too' type poverty.
There's young Kelly Brown having the childhood which makes me want to scoop her up and away from it. Yet she still finds moments of pleasure.
'Suddenly she came out on to a field of brilliant, white light. There were seagulls there, hundreds of them, standing motionless in pools of reflected cloud.... Then with a shout of joy, she ran towards them.
One by one with the clapping of wings, and then in a whole flock, they rose up and burst like spray in the air above her head.' Pat Barker Union Street
There are young mothers in loveless, aggressive marriages where the husband drinks all the money and wonders if he'll ever get another job. There is still the space for the profound, holding her new daughter, staring out of the hospital window.
'Now she held her daughter in her arms. And the thought that inside that tiny body was a womb like hers with eggs waiting to be released, caused the same fear, the same wonder. She walked across to the window holding the child in her arms.
There's the mother who takes her own daughter to a back street to see the lady who 'help[s] girls out of a jam', knowing that in doing she's risking her life.
And then there's Alice. Alice Bell. Eats nothing, wraps herself in newspaper so that she has enough money for a proper funeral, not a pauper's funeral. Alice who the neighbours care for, but whose son and wife don't. Alice whose story speaks to my heart and soul.
'Inside herself, she was still sixteen. She had all the passion, all the silliness.'
Have you read this book? What did you think of it?
Please if you read no more just read Alice Bell's story.