|Weidenfeld & Nicholson|
When twenty year old Vivien Epstein's father dies, she makes the momentous decision to move from Manchester to London, ostensibly, to advance her career as a hair dresser but also to track down Jack Fox, a man she had a passionate, but all too brief an affair with some months before her father died.
London in the swinging sixties with all its colour and vivacity comes to life and yet, underneath the cheerful gaiety of working with the girls in Oscar’s hair establishment, a dark cloud is looming and Vivien soon learns that life in London is going to be very different. Searching for Jack is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack but Vivien is determined to track him down. Her search takes her into the dark and dangerous world of fascist propaganda and as she gets drawn into a maelstrom of hatred and violence, she begins to realise that Jack may have to remain hidden for a very good reason.
I was engrossed in this story from the beginning. It’s beautifully written, with a real sense, not just of time and place, but there's also a tangible awareness of something ugly taking place. The violence, the destruction of common values and the overwhelming futility of a community at odds with itself is clearly well researched. The story of the Jewish 62 Group which was formed to challenge the resurgence in fascism at this time is something of which, I'm ashamed to say, I knew nothing, but, by cleverly combining fact with fiction, the author has given me a greater awareness of this difficult time. And yet, all this is in direct contrast to the frivolity of life for Vivien working happily in Oscar’s, until she discovers what’s really happening in the streets around the East End.
In a way, Ridley Road is Vivien’s coming of age story. We watch as she goes from naïve ingénue to young womanhood and overcomes the ugliness of hatred in an inspirational love story, which helps to show that love will always challenge, and hopefully, overcome adversity.
A commendable novel and well worth reading.