Book Review: Five to One

Five to One, by Chris Chalmers, tells the stories of five groups of people whose lives intersect when a helicopter crashes on Clapham Common in London. Due to the moving timelines and number of characters involved it took time to fully engage with the disparate plots. There is humour in the narrative despite the various difficulties the protagonists must navigate. This is a story of individuals and the challenges of living.

The prologue introduces the pilot as he flies east along the path of the Thames. A brief background is offered but little else is revealed. The remainder of the book is divided into five parts. These progress the tales being told of the remaining protagonists, just a few scenes each at a time.

Ian is a middle aged gardener who used to work in the city. Married to Carla, he embarks on an affair with Agnes, a young Polish nanny employed by a client. He tries to convince himself that he is doing nothing wrong for reasons that will become clear. Carla is seeking direction and ends up finding fame, if only for a day.

Glory works in a care home, a job she enjoys, unlike many of her colleagues. She lives with her self-absorbed sister, Mercy, and helps support her young nephew and neice. When one of the elderly residents at Glory’s workplace complains that a stranger is entering her room during the night the often confused old lady’s concerns are dismissed. Glory decides to investigate further, bringing down trouble on herself.

Tony has recently arrived in London from New Zealand. He is on sabbatical from both his job and relationship, neither of which he is convinced he wishes to continue. Asides about his increasing girth drive him to exercise on the common where he meets Shelley, a young woman who tells him she is seeking an opportunity to become pregnant. The encounter plants the seed of an idea in Tony’s head about fatherhood and the direction he now wishes his life to take.

Mari and Adam have also taken extended leave from their safe and sensible jobs. They have travelled to South America where they teach English as a foreign language in between exploring the region, especially the indigenous wildlife which Adam reveres. Their relationship appears solid if unexciting, but the cracks that exist become harder to ignore when marriage is proposed. Neither can be fully satisfied in quite the way the other thinks.

The plotlines and characters are appealing yet their potential is never fully realised. The writing flows but the continuous movement between arcs distracted from the empathy being built. I enjoyed the windows into ordinary lives, the self-inflicted difficulties and awkward attempts to extricate. Whilst the ideas and the writing were resourceful and assured, the story structure didn’t work for me.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

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