Magazine article The Spectator

From Riches to Rags

Magazine article The Spectator

From Riches to Rags

Article excerpt

From riches to rags

Francis King

GOING EAST by Matthew d'Ancona Sceptre, L14.99, pp. 406 ISBN 0340828463

This often impressive but erratic first novel begins with a tragedy. Its young protagonist, Mia, loses all her closest relatives - brother, twin sisters, widower father - in an explosion assumed to have been intended by Irish terrorists for a next-door neighbour, a Loyalist politician. Devastated, she leaves her large fortune untouched in a trust, ceases to see family or friends, and retreats from her flat off Canonbury Square to a shabby East End basement. Soon, she has taken a humble job as deputy director of an alternative health centre.

That such a woman should have opted for such a solution to her psychological problems may well strike the reader as not remotely probable; but at least the device gives the author the opportunity to contrast the Two Nations that, no less than in Disraeli's day, still make up the population of this country.

In general, d'Ancona puts this opportunity to excellent use. Whether writing of the sad misfits who frequent the 'Echinacea Centre' in search of psychological and physical well-being, the teenage gangs of Brick Lane or ancient, drunken vagrants cocooned in decades of grime, he shows unfailing powers of observation. It is as though a man had stepped off a crowded underground train and had then been miraculously able to describe every person aboard in the most precise detail. But though one always sees d'Ancona's characters in every particular, one often fails to get to know them.

He is at his best in his account of Mia's arrival at her brother's wrecked home and her slow realisation that she has lost all the people closest and dearest to her. This whole section is masterly. He is at his manipulative and unpersuasive worst in a confrontation between Mia and the woman who, unknown to her, was for many years her father's mistress. …

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