Crooked Heart, by Lissa Evans, takes the reader inside the heads of some of society’s misfits. It explores loneliness and relationships alongside ideas of morality and the easy judgements inflicted on those deemed not to conform. It shows that friendships can blossom across the generational divide when preconceptions are set aside and individuals are accepted for what they are.
Set at the start of the second world war, the story introduces us to Noel, aged ten, an orphan who has been raised by his highly intelligent, idiosyncratic godmother Mattie (she obviously took this role seriously despite being an outspoken atheist). When Mattie’s mind starts to deteriorate Noel becomes the carer but cannot prevent her death. He moves in briefly with relatives of Mattie’s before being evacuated with his new classmates to St Albans where he joins a household of schemers and skivers. At the heart of this household is Vee who is always on the lookout for some way to raise the money she needs to care for her mother and adult son, neither of whom appreciate her efforts. Noel is taken in as he comes with a ration book and an allowance. Vee judges him sickly, something from which she hopes to benefit.
From this unlikely start a bond is formed between the grieving boy and his new carer. Noel quickly catches on to Vee’s scheming and becomes involved, with mutually beneficial results.
Each of the characters is described as society would see them and also as they see themselves. The reader is thereby able to better understand and empathise with why they act as they do. Despite first appearances none of the main protagonists turn out to be as bad as first thought, unlike many of the supposedly upstanding citizens with whom they interact.
There is much to consider whilst reading this book but this is secondary to why I would recommend it. Quite simply, it is a beautifully written story that is enjoyable to read. There are no wasted words, no passages that drag. Each of the sub-plots offer interest and add to the whole. I cared about the outcome of every deviation from Noel’s story as well as the denouement of his tale.
I was not disappointed. Having immersed myself in this imaginary world I emerged replete and delighted to have discovered such a skilful writer. In tying up each thread of the tale she developed her characters and concluded their stories without at any stage compromising what had gone before.
A credible tale filled with humour and pathos about people who are flawed and how they cope in a less than perfect world. I will be recommending this book to everyone, again and again.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Doubleday.