This book is a wonderful example of how a single image can spark a large and powerful story. Toni Jordan has imagined the lives and trajectories of nine characters over eighty years, all from the beginning point of a randomly found photograph (shown on the cover).
With one exception, these vividly drawn characters are from three generations of the Westaway clan and their stories are taken from 1939 until about 2018. Each voice is distinct and authentic, and there is liberal use of the slang and mannerisms from the relevant times. The quickness of Jordan’s ear and wit is particularly strong in the chapter of a seventeen-year-old in the late 2010s.
The plotting of this novel would have been a challenging exercise for the author. Each chapter acts as a window into the action and covers a day in the life of one of the characters where a significant event occurs to change their lives and relationships. The trick Jordan has pulled off with great skill however, and what gives this book its freshness, is that the events all come from different time periods, are told out of order, and yet build the story logically and dramatically to its final scene. Another deft touch is an object that journeys through nearly every chapter, aiding the dramatic flow and linkages between the individuals’ stories.
The lack of chronological signposts in the book feel awkward at first, particularly as the transition from Chapter 1 to 2 is a bit clunky (right when the reader is in the early stages of figuring out what’s going on), but spelling it out too obviously would spoil some of the fun of the story.
Overall, Jordan proves herself to be masterfully in control of her material, and her careful timings of information release are calculated to extract maximum emotional impact.