Terrible Things in Bethnal Green
by Charlotte Reads Classics
After the ridiculous reading success that was Atonement, I moved onto Jessica Francis Kane’s novel. I had made a tenuous connection in my head between the Bethnal Green tube station disaster during the blitz and Cecelia (in the film at least) dying in a tube station in Atonement. I raced through the book and really enjoyed it and now, a couple of weeks later, after the dust has settled, I’m really astounded at the scope of this novel.
The Report creates an incredible amount of atmosphere for the number of pages. I felt like Kane completely captured the wartime atmosphere and very methodically recreated an entire community. All the details were perfect.
As the community is brought together in mourning, the book follows characters with several different viewpoints. There are officials, chaplains, families, questionably innocent bystanders and descendants of those involved. A lot of the novel concentrates on the report written about the crush and you might worry the treatment of characters could be quite distant and dry. However, the characters and their very different reactions to the event are incredibly well drawn and just really real! I loved the characters that aged between the two different timelines in the book: You get children in the crush with very strong emotional connections to it as adults thirty years later.
Some of the most brilliant books I have discovered this past year are those that blend historical events with fiction. The Report is set in such a unique and unrepeatable moment in history. Before I read this book I was aware of the crush at Bethnal Green tube station but I knew none of the details or how tragic it really was. Whilst, of course, the characters in the book are fiction, the fact remains that this is a real moment in history and real people’s lives changed. I will always find time for novels like this one because I think it is so important to remember the tragedies of war so that we can learn from them. Some parts of history aren’t worth repeating.
The Financial Times quote for the back cover calls it a ‘novel of ideas’. This is one of the best descriptions I could draw attention to, as this novel is so grand in scope. The focus on the writing of the report itself can be compared to the way modern tragedies are reported nowadays.
I highly recommend The Report, not only to readers interested in the era but particularly to lovers of Atonement – they make a fabulous combination.