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Once Upon a Time in England: A Novel Paperback – September 20, 2008
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This may, in large part, be down to the semi-autobiographical nature of the story. Its protagonists are Robbie (an Irish factory worker who moonlights as a knockout Van Morrison-style pub soul signer), Suheela (Robbie's pretty Malaysian wife), and then as the book progresses, Vincent (their shy, bully-magnet son), and Ellie (their tomboy younger daughter). Walsh has said in interviews that Suheela's character was greatly inspired by her own Malaysian mother, who married an Irish truck driver, and Ellie is clearly the stand-in for Walsh. The setting is the same mid-1970s to late-'80s Warrington and Manchester Walsh herself grew up.
The book follows the struggles of this mixed-race family over the course of 15 years or so, as they move from the rough estates of Orford to the new developments in Thelwall. In the first section, Robbie holds center stage (literally), as his signing career appears destined for glory. Unfortunately, the night of his triumph is coincidentally the night a gang of skinheads break into his house and attack Suheela.Read more ›
Thus is the drama set to unfold over the next few years (1975-1989), Robbie's singing career no longer an option, Susheela, now Sheila, a victim of recurring nightmares and a terror that nearly cripples her. There is some relief when the family moves to a better neighborhood, but the core issues remain ignored, Robbie trudging through hard-working days in a funk of disappointment and despair; Sheila hoping material goods will fill the emptiness that often overwhelms her, doting on her children, a fearful victim of that painful incident; young Vincent suffers the daily torments of fellow student who mock him for his skin color and social ineptitude; only the exuberant Ellie remains oblivious to the unhappiness of her family, bouncing joyfully into every new day, basking in the affection her father lavishes on his sprightly daughter.Read more ›