Sophia's Reviews > Jubilee

Jubilee by Shelley Harris
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's review
Jun 03, 2012

really liked it
Read on June 05, 2012

When Satish Patel was twelve, a photographer took a picture of the street party held in his road during the Silver Jubilee. Satish was in the foreground, seemingly happy amongst his friends, and the photo became incredibly famous - a symbol of racial integration and community spirit. Thirty years on, Satish is a successful heart surgeon, married with two children and a good life. When an old friend contacts him trying to organise a reunion to restage the photograph, Satish panics. He starts taking diazepam to calm himself, threatening his career and all he has worked so hard to attain. Why does the thought of meeting the old crowd affect him like this? What happened on the day of the jubilee that still haunts Satish?

The book flits between modern-day Satish with a drug problem which is slowly taking over his life and 1977 Satish and his friends and neighbours. Young Satish is a quiet boy, newly arrived from Uganda and finding it hard to assimilate into a new culture. Though he seems to make friends among the English children there is always a barrier between them and he senses that they will never really see him as one of them.

The 1977 portion of the book is brilliantly done. Beneath the veneer of friendliness seethes an ugly racism which reveals itself slowly to a confused Satish. Gradually, he learns to keep aspects of his home life hidden from his friends, as he knows they won't understand and fears ridicule, and we see how even his best friends are affected by peer pressure and exhibit a casual racism towards him. The 1970s setting is perfect, with lots of little period details to evoke a sense of nostalgia. I wasn't quite four at the time of the Silver Jubilee, but the feel and impression of those days came right back to me. The present-day sections were well-written too, and I enjoyed seeing how Satish's life had been changed by what happened in his past, but the heart of the novel was in his childhood, and I kept willing these contemporary scenes to be over quickly so I could get back to 1977.

The dreadful incident of jubilee day looms large over the whole book, deliberately kept hidden from the reader until very near the end. What could it be? My mind was whirring over all sorts of possible scenarios; after such a massive build-up, it was bound to be something pretty shocking. I did feel the author was setting herself up for an anticlimax here, but actually when the ending came it slotted in perfectly and I didn't feel at all disappointed.

This was a very impressive debut from the author, and I loved the unsettling mood of quiet unease which slowly built over the course of the novel.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Rosemary (new) - added it

Rosemary Arno However I did find the ending somewhat unbelievable or disappointing. Not sure which!

Sophia Rosemary wrote: "However I did find the ending somewhat unbelievable or disappointing. Not sure which!"

Oh, that's a shame. I thought that the fact that the climax wasn't so very lurid was what made it realistic.

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