Peter’s life is described up until, but not beyond, the point at which he is forced by tragedy to grow up and replace his father. The process by which he turns into this figure is quiet and expert. To reveal anything more would be to muffle the book’s depth charge. Whether this turns this small work into a minor masterpiece is uncertain, and won’t be gauged until it is left to settle into the mind, and looked back upon. But as a series of snapshots of a vanished post-war world, before the gutting of British industry – a paradoxical time of concentrated pollution and associated health risk, yet far more green space and outdoor imaginative life – is well done and, at a time when working-class stories ought to be coming to the fore, welcome indeed.
Written in the second person singular, and with a chapter devoted to each year of Peter’s life from two to 13, this is a terse, bitterly poignant novel about guilt and the art of retrospection. Older Peter tussles with his more innocent, younger self, trying to freeze-frame moments from his childhood and, in doing so, stave off a horror that is about to alter his family story for ever.