North London in the twenty-first century: a place where a son will swiftly adopt an old lady and take her home from hospital to impersonate his dear departed mother, rather than lose the council flat.
A time of golden job opportunities, though you might have to dress up as a coffee bean or work as an intern at an undertaker or put up with champagne and posh French dinners while your boss hits on you.
A place rich in language – whether it’s Romanian, Ukrainian, Russian, Swahili or buxom housing officers talking managementese.
A place where husbands go absent without leave and councillors sacrifice cherry orchards at the altar of new builds.
Meet Berthold Sidebottom, a 52 year divorcee and out of work actor reduced to living at home with his mother Lily. Home is a flat in a North London block that was designed by the architect Berthold Lubetkin, after who he was named. Lily claims, that despite the flats being council owned, Lubetkin promised her, that her flat would always be hers, but Lily’s life has been somewhat colourful so who knows the truth behind the claim. Berthold is essentially shuffling through life, which he constantly compares to that of George Clooney, as they were born on the same day – that comparison is never going to produce positive results. However it seems things are all about to change again, when his mother is rushed to hospital and sadly dies, bringing the question of the ownership of the flat back to the fore.
How Berthold chooses to resolve the issue creates a whole new world of problems, but also sees him start to engage with his neighbours and the wider community in a way that will ultimately see him start to become the man he was destined to be.
This is a book peopled by a host of quirky eccentric characters, some comic and some tragic, but all of them play their own part in making a social comment on modern British life. It deals with many contemporary political and moral issues, including the “Bedroom Tax”, the ‘fit to work’ issues faced by the disabled, the immorality of tax avoidance and even corruption in ‘emerging nations’. Throw council incompetence, environmental issues and immigration into the mix and you have a heady mix of topics guaranteed to elicit a response. From that viewpoint it would make a good book club read, there are certainly plenty of issues to get stuck into.
Having read all of the author’s previous books, this is far more farcical and anarchic but no less thought provoking and insightful. I enjoyed the mostly humorous romp through the lives of the inhabitants of Madeley Court. In some ways the humour served to highlight the issues raised more ably than a more serious and considered commentary would have done. It was enlightening without being preachy and that is always a bonus. If you want a read that is both funny yet touching, with an underlying bite of social realism, then this book definitely fits the bill.
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.