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PEELING BACK THE LAYERS OF A FAMILY'S LIFE IN EVOLUTIONARY BRITAIN

One of Us - Melissa Benn

When I began reading "ONE OF US", I wasn't sure I was going to like it. For the first 20 pages of it, I felt bored by the narrative voice which had a droning, nigh well soporific quality to it. I'm a reader who prefers for the characters of a novel, through their actions, to lay out before me what the story is all about. Dialogue excites me and makes me curious about the characters engaged in it. I don't much care for a narrative voice to serve as the interface between me, the reader, and the characters who populate the novel. Thankfully, the author was wise enough to tap down the narrative voice and let the novel take on a life of its own through its characters.

"One of Us" is largely focused on the Adams Family, a solidly upper middle class London family of strivers and conflicted souls. David, the father, came from a humble background, managed to marry "above his station" in the early postwar years to a woman who shared his ambitions and hopes for a more just society shorn of class and racial prejudice, and became a successful lawyer often taking on unpopular and controversial cases. The wife, Fiona, was an academic. Together with their 4 children --- 2 sons and 2 daughters --- the Adamses forged a relationship with the Givings family, which over the succeeding decades, would play a significant part in their lives.

The novel is laid-out in a fairly linear fashion from the early 1970s to the first decade of the 21st century. Anna Adams, the youngest of her family, takes center stage in a drama set against the backdrop of Blairite Britain in the years leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. The reader sees her life take shape from that of a pre-teen in July 1971 to a married woman with 2 children, whose husband builds a successful legal career which garners him a measure of national acclaim. In the meantime, Andy Givings, the head of the Givings family, wins election to Parliament during the Thatcher years and blossoms as a key Cabinet Minister under Tony Blair. Conflict arises between both the Givings and Adamses due to Anna’s adored brother Jack, who is the black sheep of the family. Jack is a troubled man of imposing stature with a shock of red hair, who feels deeply for the socially downtrodden, and goes on to commit a radical act in March 2003 in the shadow of Parliament that has repercussions for both his family and the Givings.

On the whole, this is a novel that makes for ideal summer reading. While not great, it’s a nice book best read in spurts.