Friday, 4 September 2020

Book review : Let It Shine - Josephine Cox

Let It Shine is set in northern England in the early 1930's. If you can imagine a combination of the homely old Hovis adverts, making us feel all nostalgic for the good old days and close-knit families, and the dangerous, ruthless atmosphere of Dickens' London in Oliver Twist, you'll be well on the way to understanding the overall feeling of the book. People worked hard, looked after their families and had no big dreams of travelling abroad, buying the latest iPhone or following celebs online or even on TV. Nobody in the novel even has a radio, as far as I remember, but there is one old-fashioned telephone that puts in an appearance ! I felt as if I were watching a TV series - something like Call The Midwife or Downton Abbey - that gives you a real sense of daily life in a specific time period. One thing that I found sadly lacking, however, was any mention of things going on in the world at the time. Even if reduced to the quick mention of something in the newspaper headlines or a subject of discussion between the women at the end of the street, I'm sure something could have been introduced about the first worries about a coming war (it is a little early, admittedly, but there is no reason for the book to have such a specific date line typed out in the table of contents) or other world or even domestic affairs.

The first part of the book focuses on a cheerful house in Blackburn, filled with the perfect, happy, hard-working Bolton family. Sylvia is happy cooking and cleaning the house while her husband Jim goes off to work, happy to put a roof over them and their three children - teenaged twins Ellie and Betsy and big brother Larry. You may have noticed I used the word happy three times in that sentence. Well, maybe it's me, but that was the impression I got from the book. Everything was just a little bit too happy and perfect. They all love each other very much and are determined to look on the bright side of life, but I'm sure a few mentions of daily problems would have helped make it all a bit more believable - water dripping through the roof, stinky chamberpots needing cleaning, a cold draught blowing under the door, ... Maybe I'm a cynic but I find it hard to believe that the "good old days" really were quite that good for the working class families at the time.

However, the richer families don't seem to have it any better ! Ada Williams, an elderly lady with a deep, dark secret that will come out later in the book, is decidedly unhappy sharing her (bigger and better equipped) house with her nasty, disrespectful and frequently violent son Peter. He seems to have anger issues and at times seems decidedly sociopathic, but he's just presented as the villain of the piece, similar to the evil characters in Christmas pantomimes who make the audience boo and hiss every time they come on stage ! This is my biggest issue with the book - people are either wholly good or wholly evil, with the exception of one character (John) who switches sides, but even then, he is one or the other. Complex personalities or 'good guys' with moral faults (or even just a grumpy frame of mind) don't exist in this book.

I won't give away the entire plotline of the book, or you won't have anything to enjoy. Suffice to say, a Christmas Eve fire will leave the Boltons torn asunder when the parents are both killed, Larry is crippled and the girls are sent to live in a foster home. It all comes good in the end though, so if you're looking for a heart-warming tale of good things coming to those who deserve them, it will definitely put a smile on your face.

star rating : 3.5/5

RRP : £8.99

  • Paperback : 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1472245695
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1472245694
  • Product Dimensions : 14.1 x 2 x 20 cm
  • Publisher : Headline (20 April 2017)
  • Language : English


  1. I know Josephine Cox is/was one of the most-popular authors, whose books are the most borrowed in the libraries, but I'm not sure if I've read any of them. I might have in the past, and forgotten. Not sure if this book is for me, from your review, I'd probably be asking the same questions about one-dimensional characters.

    1. I've just checked and this is the second of her books that I've read and reviewed. I only gave the other one 3/5. Oh dear !


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