It is June, 1962. Vivien Epstein, twenty-two years old and a hairdresser from Manchester, arrives in London having just lost her father. Alone in the world, she is looking for Jack Fox, a man she had a fleeting but passionate love affair with some months before. But the only address she has for him leads to a dead end.Determined to make a new life for herself, Vivien convinces Barb, the owner of Oscar’s hair salon in Soho, to give her a job. There, she is swept into the glittering world of the Swinging Sixties, with its coffee bars and jazz clubs, a place where she begins to feel free.But still, she pines for Jack. And when she spots him among the crowds at an anti-fascist rally in Trafalgar Square, Vivien is elated. But all is not as it seems . . .
Ridley Road by Jo Bloom is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Orion Publishing) on 11 December 2014, in hardback and eBook. I'm delighted to be taking part in the Blog Tour for Ridley Road today.
‘One August afternoon some summers ago, my dad and I gave a lift to an elderly man called Monty whom we’d met at a funeral. I took my place in the back, and on the drive to the nearest station, listened to them share memories of their early life in post-war East London. But when they mentioned something called the 62 Group, I pushed myself forward and heard about the Jewish community’s street resistance to fascism for the first time. Even then I knew I would write about it. This was a tale that hadn’t been told before in literature; how, fewer than two decades after Hitler had been defeated and awareness of the atrocities against the Jews in World War II had begun to penetrate the mainstream, British fascism was rearing up again. But now it was opposed by the 62 Group – a band of brave, passionate men who took matters into their own hands and spent the sixties fighting fascism on the streets.’ Jo Bloom
Set in Soho and Hackney’s Ridley Road in 1960s London, Jo Bloom’s debut novel explores the political unrest and post-war street resistance to the growing fascist extremism which was taking place just as the city was embracing the Swinging Sixties in its coffee bars, its nightclubs and its music and fashion.
I am a huge fan of fiction set in the 1960s, especially stories that are set in London. The 1960s are my favourite era, I love the fashion and the music and the huge changes that took place during that decade, especially for women.
Jo Bloom has captured the sense of the 60s so well in Ridley Road. Vivien, the lead character has recently moved to London from Manchester. She's left behind tragedy and sadness and is determined that from now on, things are going to get better for her. She has another reason for moving to London too, she wants to find Jack, the guy who stole her heart and left without a word to say where he was going. Armed with an old address and memories of Jack's handsome face, she starts her new life.
It's not long before Vivien has found herself a job in a salon in Soho, working alongside a group of friendly, fun-loving girls, overseen by caring and wise Barb. Vivien throws herself into the nightlife and excitement of swinging London. Nightclubs, dancing, meeting actors and musicians and it's not long before she has caught the eye of a local likely lad.
Vivien can't forget Jack, and is thrilled when she spots him one afternoon. Thrilled until she realises just what Jack is doing, what he is part of. For although 60s London is free and easy and a great place for a young woman to live, there are undertones of violence and hatred. The fascist movement is growing stronger and Vivien is part of the Jewish community who are a target of the fascist extremist activities.
I have to admit that I knew almost nothing about the rise of British fascism during this time, and the Jewish community's fight to overcome it. It's a subject that seems to have been swept under the carpet and I was shocked to read of some of the terrible things done just twenty years after the end of World War II. Jo Bloom has researched this subject very well, and some of the events make for difficult and upsetting reading, yet there is a realism and authenticity about her writing that leaves me in no doubt that these things happened.
The contrast between the innocence of Vivien and the hatred and evil of the fascists, combined with the strength of feeling and bravery of those who fought against it is startling and makes for compelling, and enlightening reading.
Ridley Road contains an important story, very well told by an excellent author who writes so well. Her characters are rounded and well developed, the sense of place and era are very real and the plot is full of surprising and shocking twists and turns. A great novel, I enjoyed this one very much.
I am thrilled to welcome the author, Jo Bloom here to Random Reads together. Jo agreed to answer some questions for me;
Do you read reviews of your novels? Do you take them seriously?
I’m going to try my best not to look at every reader/media review, but I’m aware that will take a lot of restraint! I think it’s quite easy to get ‘stuck’ in other people’s opinions and that’s probably not very helpful.
How long does it take to write a novel?
It took me about 3-4 years but I had a baby and worked during that time.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I get up early to write (around 5.30am) and I drink a coffee out of a particular white, handle-less mug.
What was your favourite childhood book?
Name one book that made you laugh?
Most recently, Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans. It’s so funny and touching.
Name one book that made you cry?
Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
Which fictional character would you like to meet?
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
Which book would you give to your best friend as a present?
Right now, I’d probably press The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan, Stoner by John Williams or The Enchanted by Rene Denfield into their hands.
Are you inspired by any particular author or book?
What is your guilty pleasure read?
Jilly Cooper’s early novels. Octavia is my favourite. They’re so funny and well-observed.
Who are your favourite authors?
Alice Munro, Richard Yates, William Trevor, Colm Toibin, A M Homes, Anne Tyler.
Which book have you re-read?
Which book have you given up on?
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I wanted to love it but I didn’t.
Jo Bloom has worked in the media in Prague and New York, and was a book reviewer for Time Out for several years.
She currently works as a freelancer in arts marketing and press roles, as well as in the e-learning sector.
Jo lives in Brighton with her husband and young son.
For more information about Jo Bloom, visit her website www.jobloom.com
Follow her on Twitter @missiejobloom