The Road Home by Rose Tremain

The Road Home The Road Home by Rose Tremain

I’m into the first three pages of the book, and I’ve begun to feel, very heavily, for Lev. An Eastern European, he is going to England, to do any kind of work. His wife has died, and his daughter needs essentials, like clothes and shoes; well, everything, as Lev says, “England is my hope”. He thinks “the English were lucky”, and that it is now his time to be lucky, because he can now freely enter England as a citizen of the EU.

Tremain has made Lev into quite a good-looking, but skinny, character. He doesn’t realize that even with his gray hair and his thin frame he is a looker: Lydia, sitting beside him in the bus, also going to London, to work as an interpreter, thinks so. So does a girl on the street, later in London, when he is drinking outside a pub, and Sophie, one of the chefs in a restaurant in which he works.

He then has an affair with Sophie, but this dies when he realizes he is losing touch with the world, specifically the British world. This happens on the night of the premiere of a play by an important client of the restaurant. It is about incest, of a father towards his daughter. It disgusts and unhinges him, unbalances him, causing him to nearly choke Sophie duing an altercation about the play. He blames the world, other than himself: “This wasn’t his fault. It was the fault of the world”. Not his fault, that he could not control his temper?

He has a bad habit of day-dreaming, which sometimes could cause him trouble, like in the kitchen where he works, at the police station when he is asked to call someone, after his arrest for being a public nuisance. Also, he is irrationally jealous: of his dead wife Marina’s boss, of Sophie. Because of this, he has lost everything, his kitchen job, his girl. He now has to work at a farm, picking asparagus, thanks to Vitas, his former replacement in the kitchen.

Up to now, Lev hasn’t been a character I would be sympathetic with: a dreamer with a bad temper. But, later in the book we see him change, to someone who cares about old people in an old-folks’ home. He becomes their cook, or rather their chef, as he insists on being called because he’s not cooking slop like the kind the former cooks did, who left the home in the lurch. He’s now confident of his culinary skills, after observing professional chefs work. He is now working to save money to open a restaurant back home.

The ending, is, of course, he manages to do this. Tremain has written a well-researched narrative of an EU immigrant or foreign worker working for starvation wages in England. She certainly has done a lot of work on details about cooking. The book reads more like a normal good read than a literary one that gets shortlisted for an award.

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