Hard Luck by James Maw - review by Karen Lewis

Karen Lewis

Double Trouble

Hard Luck


Quartet Books 197pp £8.95 order from our bookshop

Hard Luck describes the comic, frequently unhappy adventures of identical twins, Richard and Tom, from their birth in Macmillan’s Fifties to adolescence in the more affluent and progressive Seventies.

The tone might be lighthearted but times are indeed hard for Richard , who narrates the story, and Tom. Their father, who initially appears in the guise of a harmless, if uncaring, drunk from a seaside postcard, turn out to be a wife-and-childbatterer. Matters come to a head – literally – when his brothers-in-law decide to give him a taste of his own medicine and bash him about with a cricket bat. Divorce is inevitable. The twins’ frail mother struggles on, making do, but eventually succumbs to cancer and is hospitalized for two years. Shades of the workhouse now close upon the growing boys: they’ re neglected by a monstrous foster mother and then bullied in a home for delinquents. Among their many misfortunes is one they couldn’t possibly have anticipated – the decision to set their history in a cramped typeface which strains the eyes.

The novel’s appeal is a nostalgic one. James Maw has a good, if occasionally unreliable, memory for the kind of detail that evokes an era. In Hard Luck, the family are part o f a post-war slum clearance programme in which ailing Londoners are moved to modern suburban estates. The

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter