Little Gods, by Anna Richards

For anyone choosing to be different, life can be extremely difficult to negotiate at times, but it’s just that: a choice. However, for those who are born different, life is even more difficult: it was not of their making, just a fateful throw of the dice. Little Gods takes this premise of accidental difference and weaves a tale of a unique woman in search of (and coming to terms with) herself, looking for acceptance and purpose in a world not geared to non-conformity, set against the tragedies of war and then subsequently coping with being an alien in an alien land. But, even in the midst of seismic cultural upheaval and uncertainty, the hidden hand of Fate works its mysterious designs.

Jean (Eugenia) Clocker is an anomaly, a giantess, born to the vitriolic, disappointed Wisteria, and the one-armed, shell-shocked Arthur, a veteran of the Great War. After being the sole survivor of a bomb which rips through the house she lives in, killing everybody else, she goes to live with the family of Gloria Smith, her only (and best) friend, thanks to her mother’s caustically calculated machinations. Through Gloria, Jean begins to fit into the world her mother, out of spite, had denied her. While living there, Jean is assigned to the Women’s Civil Defence, helping to clear bombsites: not long afterwards, she meets Denny, an American GI, and through him, discovers more about herself than she’d ever imagined possible. The inevitable happens: they get married and, as a war bride, gets transplanted to America when peace, and her husband, finally return. But life, with all its twists, turns and humiliations, hasn’t finished with her yet: it is here that her real education begins, aided and abetted by an assortment of larger-than-life characters, as brash, loud and outrageous as America itself.

The characters in Richards’ book are richly realised and precisely outlined: her use of language is never less than poetic, sometimes startling, at times incendiary, often oblique and yet very accurate for all that. Place also plays an important role and precisely mirrors Jean’s personal journey of transformation: cold, damp, socially claustrophobic Britain, the scene of her troubled start in life and then huge, garish, bright, neon America, the land of opportunity and limitless possibility. Truly, this is what the novel is all about: possibility and opportunity allied to an intangible hope, offered even to someone like Jean, the lumpen anomaly whose only desire is to go unnoticed, to make herself smaller. In the end, however, it is her very difference that makes the difference.

Little Gods is a delightfully humorous, magical and engaging book, a celebration of those who stand outside, the eccentrics and rebels (whether accidental or otherwise). It’s an assured debut for a first novel – Richards’ storytelling is impressive, her characterisation quite pyrotechnic, and the plot (although admittedly slow at times) has a wonderfully pleasing complexity, as well as a satisfying symmetry and circularity in its final resolution. It leaves the reader not only with hope, but also the possibility of possibilities, that life is something to be grabbed and not something that just happens to people. Above all it’s a modern-day parable, almost a manifesto that says difference is something to be welcomed. Given that, it’ll be very interesting to see where Anna Richards takes us from here in her second novel.

Original review posted here.

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