I had not read any of Amanda Craig's books before picking up Hearts and Minds which had been long listed for this year's Orange Prize. I had heard things about the book being quite confronting - and it certainly was in parts - but what it was mostly for me was a fantastic story with brilliant characters.
The book is told from the perspective of several characters all living in different ways and different situations in modern day London and it reminded me a lot of a Robert Altman film in it's structure in that all of the characters started to intersect with each other (either knowingly or unknowingly) as their stories progressed. This is one of my favourite forms of story telling when it is done well and I think Craig has done an amazing job of it in this book.
One of my favourite characters in the novel was Job, a young man from Zimbabwe who has entered the UK illegally to escape violence and persecution in his home country. His wife remains in Africa and Job is unsure where exactly she is or what her fate might have become. Job is working several jobs in order to pay for his living expenses and to send money back to his wife. He is an educated man and throughout the book he offers up his thoughts on the way of life in Britain as compared with his own country;
Poor people do live differently in Britain. They have so many things that seem to drive out thought. Job would never have dreamt he could one day drive a car like the ones he leases from Mo, for instance. Nor would he have believed that he might have a TV set, thrown out because it was an old, bulky design instead of the flat-screen ones everyone expects. Also, there is so much culture available for free. Job has walked, amazed, round every museum he can find on Sundays, where people from all over the globe wander in to enjoy the most beautiful paintings, inventions, buildings. He can't join a public library, but the cheapness of second-hand paperbacks on stalls and in charity shops makes him weak. There is an abundance of everything - food dropped half eaten on the pavement that goes to feed birds or rats - and yet a consciousness of nothing. He thinks of the city conjured for him by Dickens; that foggy, dark place riddled with crime and yet suffused with kindness and courage. He had been a little disappointed when he arrived to find the soot had been scoured away during the last century, and no horse-drawn carriages. Yet there were still men like Bill Sikes, with their dogs and violence. He sees them right outside his home.
Each of the characters were fully drawn - their backgrounds and motivations clearly outlined and portrayed for the reader - but not in such an obvious way that it became patronising or fake.
I loved reading this book and am now on the look out for more of Amanda Craig's work - any suggestions?