Before I review this book I shall declare an interest. I knew Paolo Hewitt back in the 70’s, not long after he had left Burbank Children’s Home, the setting for this book. He had come to Guildford to meet up with his friend, and by then, my friend, Des. Des has now been my friend for 40 years. I am as close to him as any of my 4 brothers. We have been through good times, bad times and times that were as low, as desperate and as troubled as it gets. So, I am biased. Des is one of the subjects of the book.
I bought the book as soon as it came out. I’ve followed Paolo’s career as a talented writer and Des had been involved in some of the research for this one, so I knew it was coming out. I put it on the top of my book-pile, and left it. And left it. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to start it, wasn’t sure if it would make me feel sorry for my friend. We’re way past that. I know his story, have lived some of it with him. I didn’t think want the book to change things. 4 months passed.
Last Sunday, I picked the book up and opened it. Within minutes, I was 40 pages in. Des had rung in the morning and apologised for his behaviour the last time we had met. It had been difficult. I felt better after the call and had arranged to meet up in a couple of weeks. So, happier, I started the book. A few hours later, I had finished it.
The book is really about Paolo interviewing 4 people who had been in the Children’s Home with him. He allows them to tell their story, simply and quietly. The sentences are short, uncluttered and easy to read. The whole thing is written with a lightness of touch that belies some of the detail of the stories. My old friend has the first tale. I know the details, the dates, the timings. But I was not prepared for Paolo’s qualification of some of the points. He clarifies what it means to be an orphan better than anyone I have ever come across, including my friend. Of course, in the telling of the 4 stories, a 5th emerges. Maybe even a 6th. The 5th one is Paolo’s. As he remembers his view on aspects of his friends’ stories, he reveals much about himself, all of it good. He writes beautifully, with detail steeped in music and football, but never getting in the way of the narrative. The 6th story is of the house, the Home.
So, yes, I have known the author. Yes, I know one of the characters so well that we finish each other’s sentences. Yes, I know the house, the town and many of the locations, intimately. If any of that stops you from reading this book, I am sorry. Because you will miss out on an amazing story, beautifully told, in a book that will live with you for a long time.