Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett - review by Francis King

Francis King

Trade Secrets

Skin Lane

By

Serpent’s Tail 352pp £10.99 order from our bookshop
 

The most extraordinary aspect of this extraordinary novel is the vividness with which its author evokes a small, secret pocket, long since demolished, of the City of London as it used to be during the hot summer of 1967. Skin Lane, which provides the book with its vaguely sinister title, is a fictional street that, like the real-life Skinners Lane, is a turning off Garlick Hill. At the time of the story, it is the heart of the fur trade, the employers and proprietors of which are predominantly Jewish. Now, when it often requires courage or defiance to wear a fur coat, these establishments have vanished, either closed down or, in a few cases, moved to places with less ancient histories and lower rents.

In one of these then-prosperous businesses, 47-year-old Mr Freeman, generally known as Mr F, has worked from the age of fifteen at the delicate, demanding task of slicing and stitching skins. His colleagues respect him for his skill and dedication but he has little social contact with them. Back in

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