Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Review of Bad Penny Blues by Cathi Unsworth (2009, Serpent's Tail)
Bad Penny Blues provides an evocative rendering of London in the late 1959s and early 1960s and the criminal and bohemian interface around the north inner city, and the emerging racial tensions. Indeed, the real strength of the story is the creation of a very strong sense of place using music, fashion, and the arts, along with snippets of scandals from the news and thinly veiled references to real-life criminals and the ‘Jack the Stripper’ case, which took place between 1959 and 1965. Cathi Unsworth tells the story by swapping between two narratives, a first person account of Stella, a young fashion designer, and the third person perspective of Pete, a young copper. It was an interesting approach, with the former designed to introduce the bohemian side of the city, and the latter its seedy underbelly and police corruption. However, it took me a little while to connect with Stella and her third sight, and the two parallel narratives created an awful lot of characters and subplots, and at times it become a little confusing to keep track of everyone and what's happening. Either narrative would have been substantive enough on its own. That said, there is sufficient character development in both strands, the story is interesting, and London in the late 1950s and early 1960s is really alive on the page.