As the saying goes, you can choose your friends but you can't choose your family. Rather unfortunately for Maureen Hutton, the tough-as-nails single mum desperately trying (but rarely succeeding) to keep her three kids, not to mention light-fingered and outrageously uncouth mother-in-law Ethel, in line. She never seems to get a break but usually keeps a smile on her face, despite having to deal with everything the East End can throw at them, including crack, heroin, alcoholism and the criminal underworld.
Only a mother could love some of her brood and even then, it isn't always easy. With one son doing time for murder, the other idolising him and a daughter who can't keep her knickers on or say a nice word, life is hard, but as time goes on – the book leaps ahead by a decade every now and then, covering a span of forty years in total – things just go from bad to worse. Maureen personifies maternal love and family loyalty taken to the extreme, but nevertheless it has to have its limits and, even in this atmosphere steeped in criminality, some things are just unforgivable, even for a mother.
Kimberley Chambers presents us with a gritty family drama, portraying violence, addiction and family loyalty as well as betrayal. The characters are very well developed and the emotional storyline really drags you in. Maureen's straight-talking and Ethel's hilarious antics and petty thieving provide some light relief - they remind me of Mo Harris and her wheeling and dealing in EastEnders ! - but the whole atmosphere is unbelievably bleak and sinister.
It's a totally gripping novel and will have you reading with bated breath to find out just how low some of the characters can go. I was slightly disappointed by the rather abrupt end but still really enjoyed it.
Star rating : 4.5/5
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Arrow (18 Mar 2010)
RRP : £12.99
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