Last week I was waiting for my work friend at Kings Cross train station as we were heading up to York for the day. I was early and started browsing in a lovely bookshop called Watermark. I gather Watermark is a well known book store in the U.S and Australia but this one at Kings Cross is the first in Europe. I really liked the layout and selection of books and was tempted by The Forrests by Emily Perkins which has gone straight onto my wishlist and this book Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn.
The most striking thing about Half of the Human Race is the sense of time and place Anthony Quinn is able to create. From the opening page, the story comes to life. Set amongst the homes, streets and parks of London, it is a story highlighting issues of gender, class, mental illness, friendship and love. It is about the world of cricket, women’s fight for equality and suffrage and the experience of war.
The year is 1911, the summer is sweltering, the city buzzing with the pending coronation of King George V. Constance, a free spirited budding suffragette meets Will, a rising cricket star. Will is intrigued yet apalled to discover that not only does Constance like cricket but she has the nerve and knowledge to coach him on his technique. And what’s more – it’s good advice!
Their individual lives go on, through friends and family their paths continue to cross. Love blossoms but can they overcome their differences and events outside their control. The suffragette movement gains momentum and the First World War looms.
I liked that the characters were allowed to soften and reassess their points of view as they matured. Living through imprisonment, death and war allowed them to see things in a more flexible way. Priorities change.
Despite the intensity of the experiences of the characters, despite being suprised, entertained and amused and encouraged to learn more, I was never really emotionally moved reading this story and it felt like the mental health storyline in particular was quite abruptly introduced. That didn’t stop me really liking it though and I’m going to look out for Anthony Quinn’s debut novel The Rescue Man
368 pages, 2011