Fiona Stafford

In Apricot Place

The Walworth Beauty

By

Bloomsbury 389pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Joseph, Madeleine, Joseph, Madeleine, and so on: the two stories in Michèle Roberts’s new novel, separated by more than a century, alternate from beginning to end. One moment we are in the seedy side streets of Victorian London, the next in a sleek bar in the City. More disconcerting than the shifting locations are the contrasting perspectives of Joseph, married with three children and newly recruited by Henry Mayhew to research another volume of his encyclopaedic report, London Labour and the London Poor, and Madeleine, sixty, divorced, no children, and now forcibly retired from her post as a lecturer in English. Joseph is profoundly discomposed by his current commission to gather evidence directly from London’s prostitutes, Madeleine by her decision to sport black fishnet hold-ups for an evening out, where she’s surrounded by smart suits and women much younger than she is, with no other fishnets to be seen. What begins with two isolated lives, almost like the opening of a sequence of short stories, gradually starts to offer points of connection, with the echoes growing more insistent and the chapters shrinking until all voices join together at last. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

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

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,
    • 'All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And t… ,
    • 'You are interested in a particular subject; basic research hardens this interest into an obsession, after which th… ,
    • 'Keynes predicted that future generations would enjoy such an improved standard of living that they might work just… ,
    • 'Various dislocations ... emerge, iceberg-like, out of a troubled sea of unconscious motivation and confront Eisenb… ,
    • Today is the first today of the – they've got some excellent events coming up over the next two weeks.… ,