Monday 27 May 2024

CALEDONIAN ROAD by Andrew O'Hagan, reviewed by Adèle Geras

"Gossipy, sharp, sad, upsetting, and involving. I loved it."

Adèle Geras has written many books for children and young adults and six novels for adults, the latest of which (under the pseudonym Hope Adams) is Dangerous Women, published by Michael Joseph. She lives in Cambridge.

From the moment I first read about Caledonian Road by Andrew O’Hagan I knew it was my kind of novel, just up my street etc. If I’m honest, my street includes a great variety of novels and the only sorts of book you won’t find there are SF, fantasy, or the further shores of Literary Fiction. I have been reading for 76 years or so, and generally I’m easy to please.

My Kindle is crowded with Free Samples. As soon as I read about something appealing, I’ll download one. With Caledonian Road, I knew as soon as I opened it that this was a novel I’d like. It has a list of characters, right up front and I saw from perusing this that the panoramic view of present day life in London would take in rich and poor, crooked and honest, educated and uneducated, aristocrats, Russian oligarchs, immigrants, actors, academics … it was going to be an All Human Life is There kind book.

The links between the characters, how they mesh and interact with one another, fire up the turning engines of the plot. This is complicated without ever becoming unclear, and can be summed up in John Donne's words: No man is an island

The denizens of Caledonian Road who populate the novel are many and various, but at their heart is our hero, Campbell Flynn, an art historian and celebrity academic. His wife Elizabeth is a psychiatrist, his sister Moira is a politician.

In the basement of their lovely house is a sitting tenant, Mrs Voyles. Her name is very close to Vile, and she’s a very important character too.

Campbell becomes involved with a student called Milo and a whole landscape of hellish possibilities opens up before us and we explore very many of these, our jaws quite often dropping in horror or amazement.

I’m not going to give away any more of the plot. It’s brilliantly worked out. It’s exciting, and sad and sometimes very funny and you will be swept along.

The book has had almost universal acclaim from the critics, but I did have lunch recently with someone who was complaining that she didn’t like the characters. She has, however, not given up reading the book. I never mind about likeability. If a character is interesting and comes alive on the page, that’s all I need, and there are lots of fascinating creatures skewered in these pages.

“Could you believe in an art historian who wrote for Vogue and knew about perfume?” said my doubting friend. I certainly could and did and absolutely loved the perfume /fashion references. They’ll surely turn this novel into a series of some kind for TV so I urge you to get to it before that happens. If you’re a Kindle lover, I’d say this was a terrific book to take on holiday. But it’s long and the hardback will use up a lot of suitcase space, so read it at home. But do read it … it’s gossipy, sharp, sad, upsetting, and involving. I loved it. Also, it’s most beautifully written. O’Hagan describes someone as “narrowing their face for a selfie.” We all know precisely what he means. Dazzling stuff.

Caledonian Road is published by Faber & Faber.  


Linda Newbery said...

It sounds very different from MAYFLIES! I loved that, so will definitely give this a go. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous review; this book sounds fascinating, and your review makes me want to read it. (Sheila Robinson aka SC Skillman Author)