On the coldest night of 1975, a young man with shock-red hair tears though the snowbound streets of Warrington's toughest housing estate.
He is Robbie Fitzgerald, and he is running for his life - and that of his young family.
In his heart, Robbie knows the odds are stacked against them.
In this unbending Northern town, he has married the beautiful brown nurse who once stitched up his wounds.
Susheela is his Tamil Princess, but in the real world, the Fitzgeralds have to face up to prejudice, poverty and sheer naked hatred from their neighbours.
Now Robbie has seen a way out, and he's sprinting to his date with destiny...Over thirteen years of struggle, aspiration, achievement, misunderstandings, near-misses and shattered dreams, Helen Walsh plunges us into the lives and loves of the young, doomed Fitzgerald family.
She shows herself to be a brilliant chronicler of our people and our times. And in the Fitzgeralds, she has created a family who will stay in your heart, long after the final page.
Once Upon A Time In England offers an unforgettable portrait of the world in which we live, and confirms Helen Walsh as a writer of searing power.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 368 pages
- Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 04/06/2009
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9781847671233
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.
Review by riverwillow
I've found it very difficult to come up with the words to review this novel, not because it is a bad novel, but because it such a good, but harrowing, read and all that comes to mind is a quote from a Yeats poem, 'A terrible beauty is born' ('Easter 1916'), because this novel is both beautiful but terrible. The language is beautiful, 'The majesty of a new snowfall shot her through with the same childlike amazement as the first time she'd seen it, when the sheer magic of that midnight blizzard had taken her breath away. She yielded tenderly to the memory, drawing her hand back in and draping it around her hot neck.' But within this beauty the Helen Walsh tells us of terrible things including, rape, racism, the suffocation of wanting more than where, how and who you are surrounded by will let you leading to the loss of hope and the abandonment of dreams, 'He felt himself held in suspension, waiting for some impulse to jar him from the dehumanising pulse of his life. His quiet, industrious resolve was nothing short of miraculous. Only the cruel unrealised conclusion of that night came close to breaking him.'Helen Walsh uses music in the latter half of the book in a way that is both poignant and authentic - I suspect that I will never listen to 'A Night Like This' without thinking about Vincent and his family.Read this book, it tells a universal tale of beauty and hope set against a background of narrowness and small mindedness.
Review by SmithSJ01
This fantastic story of a mix-raced marriage in Warrington really had me focused almost throughout. I took a few pages to get going but once I'd become engaged I genuinely couldn't put it down. The Fitzgerald family were fantastic. The ups and downs they went through were very real for many families although I can't imagine one family going through all of the trials and tribulations this one did, the novel is writing at its best. This novel could've been set anywhere to be honest. It's gritty and pulls no punches and will most likely have you needing tissues towards the end. 'Once Upon A Time In England' is the best book I've read so far this year.
Review by gaskella
This book was totally gripping from the outset - the life experienced by the working class family within is truly grim; an unremitingly bleak existence, reinforced by a series of poor decisions and having to live with the consequences. Each time they pick themselves up, something else seems to happen to knock them down again. The novel covers big themes, mixed-race marriage, rape, drugs, drink, homosexuality, bigotry, and it all happens to the Fitzgeralds, yet it is portrayed very realistically and you can't help but feel for them.Set in Warrington of the 1970s and 80s, it's love at first sight for Robbie Fitzgerald, a red-headed club singer of Irish descent, and Susheela, a Malaysian trainee nurse, newly emigrated to make a life for herself in the land of plenty. They meet in the ER..."Susheela had fallen in love with that man, and that nose. Each dent and bump told out their history. She'd been there, on duty, the night they wheeled him in, barely conscious, his nose splayed across his left cheekbone pumping blood into the stung slits of his eyes. ... And she'd been there in the room later when his cast had peeled back to reveal his new face. She'd watched him confront the mirror and sensed his disappointment. ... He seemed to shrink away from the dangerous edge his nose now lent his battle-scarred face, at odds with the tender and reticent soul underneath."Robbie and Susheela marry and have a son Vincent, Vinnie; five years later Susheela is pregnant again. But on the night he gets his big break and gets spotted by an agent at the Club, he's late home, and the event happens that will colour their lives for ever. Susheela gets raped by a gang of racist thugs who break into their home.All this has happened before page 40, leaving the rest of the novel to chart tell the story of the family through the next decades. Robbie leaves Sheila, as she becomes known, with the kids, sensitive Vinnie and live-wire Ellie. With a mostly absent father and a mother who doesn't really understand the teen-scene, Vinnie and Ellie soon get into drugs and clubbing, and Vinnie is starting to explore the fringes of the gay scene. You can feel it will end in inevitable tragedy.This is strong stuff and the author spares no punches, she tells it like it is. Although the novel is set in a particularly poor industrial area of England, you feel that similar stories have happened up and down the country to unfortunate families. Walsh was born in Warrington and got ecstasy and clubbing before running away to Barcelona at sixteen, so you know she is writing from experience. This gritty novel, her second, was absolutely gripping from the start, and I would certainly read more.
Review by arkgirl1
This is a powerful exploration of family life in Warrington through the 70's and 80's that hits hard. It was much grittier than I expected it was going to be from the cover with some brutal and shocking sections; it certainly packs an emotional punch. The four family members [Robbie, She, Vincent, and Ellie] all have times when their story come to the fore but it was Vincent who really leapt off the page to me. He was charismatic and vulnerable; he has to cope with so much pressure and you worry it might all become too much for him.It starts with Robbie and Susheela in love and expecting their second child but then a shocking incident occurs that impacts on everything that is to follow. We then jump forward to life in a new suburb where racism is slightly more subtle than the brutality in their first home - Vincent is nearly ready for senior school and a target for bullies whilest young Ellie is starting school with no cares and lots of confidence. Finally we jump forward to life in the late 80's and what seems to be the inevitable tragic conclusion ... the only questions seem to be how, why, and to who. The twists and turns do lead you down some blind alleys but the ending is touching and you are left with some sense of hope for the family.This is a book that will stay with you and would make a great book to discuss with a book group although some sections are not for the more sensitive reader. I will definitely be trying another book by Helen Walsh! All of the characters are incredibly well drawn and thus have the ability to make you angry with them or make you feel protective when their actions lead them into difficult situations.
Review by silvercowrie
I couldn’t believe how early in this book I found I was gripped by it. The story hits the ground running as Robbie Fitzgerald rushes around town to find some musicians to back him, so that he can put on a performance to impress the talent scout who has turned up at the club he sings at. Meanwhile his pregnant, Tamil Malay wife, Susheela ( anglicised by Robbie to Sheila or “She”) sets the table in their flat ready for their weekly takeaway, which Robbie will bring home with him when he finishes in the club. However, this is not the start of a fairy tale that the title of the book might have indicated. This is the 70s on a run down estate in a Northern English town and soon the menace of skinheads with Harrington jackets is felt. The ramifications of what happens in the early pages of this book affects the lives of every member of the family over the next 15 or so years that the story covers.It is a well-written, and sadly convincing, portrayal of their family life as they struggle as individuals. It is totally heart-felt and a really good read.