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We Had It So Good: A Novel Hardcover – April 26, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First U. S. Edition edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451617402
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451617405
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,629,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Grant, whose The Clothes on Their Backs was shortlisted for the Man Booker, again focuses on American Rhodes scholar Stephen Newman over the years from 1950s England to near modern-day. Stephen, who lives in England with his British wife, is a hippie, a disappointed scientist who makes acid, and a successful, then obsolescent producer for the BBC. Told with a mixture of distance and intimacy, this novel assembles a sweeping history of both personal and cultural events: traumatic childhoods, late illnesses, Vietnam, 9/11. There's a richness of character in not only Stephen, who's rather unlikable, but in his magician son, antisocial daughter, analyst wife, even their friends. Grant has a talent for making emptiness meaningful in her characters-silences are induced by shame, the impossibility of communication and understanding, the literal deafness that overtakes Stephen's son. Yet the novel ends feeling less epic and complex and more scattered and abrupt because the thread meant to hold it together-Stephen's life-is one of its least compelling aspects. It's a testament, then, that one finishes wishing Grant had given this family more room to breathe. (Apr.)
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Review

“She offers apt commentary on the human denial about aging, the evanescence of happiness, the unparalleled value of loyal friendship, and the mysterious nature of marriage.” —Boston Globe

More About the Author

Linda Grant was born in Liverpool on 15 February 1951, the child of Russian and Polish Jewish immigrants. She was educated at the Belvedere School (GDST), read English at the University of York, completed an M.A. in English at MacMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and did further post-graduate studies at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, where she lived from 1977 to 1984.

Her first book, Sexing the Millennium: A Political History of the Sexual Revolution was published in 1993. Her first novel, The Cast Iron Shore, published in 1996, won the David Higham First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize. Remind Me Who I am Again, an account of her mother's decline into dementia and the role that memory plays in creating family history, was published in 1998 and won the MIND/Allen Lane Book of the Year award and the Age Concern Book of the Year award. Her second novel, When I Lived in Modern Times, set in Tel Aviv in the last years of the British Mandate, published in March 2000, won the Orange Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Jewish Quarterly Prize and the Encore Prize. Her novel, Still Here, published in 2002, was longlisted for the Booker Prize. Her non-fiction work, The People On The Street: A Writer's View of Israel, published in 2006, won the Lettre Ulysses Prize for Literary Reportage. Her Booker Prize shortlisted novel, The Clothes On Their Backs, was published in February 2008. Linda's most recent book, The Thoughful Dresser was published in March 2009.

She has written a radio play, Paul and Yolande, which was broadcast on Radio 4 in October 2006, and a short story, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, part of a week of stories by Liverpool writers commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Beatles, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, broadcast in July 2007.

She has also contributed to various collections of essays. Her work is translated into French, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Czech, Russian, Polish, Turkish and Chinese.




Awards

The Clothes On Their Backs Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008
Winner South Bank Show Award

The People on the Street:
A Writer's View of Israel Lettre Ulysses Prize for Literary Reportage

When I Lived in Modern Times Winner, Orange Prize for Fiction 2000
Shorlisted: Jewish Quarterly Prize
Encore Prize


Remind Me Who I Am, Again Mind Book of the Year 1999
Age Concern Book of the Year 1999


The Cast Iron Shore David Higham First Novel Prize
Shortlisted Guardian Fiction Prize

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mark Town on May 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You have to let this novel work its way into your psyche. As I made my way through its first 75 pages or so, I thought that it stayed mostly on the surface. But it was digging deeper than I realized. And by the end I was moved by the plight of its characters. I was also engaged in its examination of the way generational identity affects our view of the world and our place in it, our expectations of - well - virtually everything. It depicts three generations. Stephen and Andrea are the main characters, but we also spend time with their parents and their children. Its focus is on the particular disappointments of the sixties generation. We "had it so good," but did not really know it, and were certainly not grateful enough for what we were offered. And our out-sized ambitions to change the world did not correspond with our willingness to either stick-to-it or think through it. And at the end, Stephen at least is aware of how much more was accomplished by his parents, and how much more clearly they saw their time and what it asked of them. I am at the tail-end of the sixties generation, and I think many of us are looking around at the world we helped shape in wonderment at the damage done. As for those who come after us, in this novel the daughter tries to document in photographs the individual traumas of hard-to-understand tribal conflicts such as Bosnia but retreats to close-up portraits of London's dogs. And the son wishes he were deaf and performs magic tricks. We do not know yet, but they may have the opposite issues of their parents - the scope of their ambitions may indicate all-too-much knowledge of how difficult it is to alter the world. They may not even try, or may tailor their ambitions to what appears within their control. Which is - not much.Read more ›
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The sixties generation broke free of the duty-bound rigors of their Depression era parents and the social constraints of materialism, creating a counterculture of hippies dedicated to revolutionary change. As a secular Jewish middle-aged baby boomer, I can well relate to Linda Grant's portraiture of aging boomers that once embraced the youth and change and idealism of a new and outrageous culture of acid rock music, heady hallucinogens, diversity, and sexual freedoms. This isn't a book centrally "about" the 60's. The sixties are more of a springboard initially, and eventually a counterpoint, lens, and mirror to where things stand as time passes.

Grant is the British author of Orange prize-winning When I Lived in Modern Times (2000), about a displaced London Jew who heads for Palestine, and The Clothes On Their Backs (2008), about a daughter of Jewish immigrants, which was short-listed for the Booker prize. Moreover, Grant is an award-winning journalist who closely observes the effect of a social climate on its inhabitants. In her latest novel, she creates an atmospheric arc that extends from the radical sixties and moves through historical landmarks and landmines such as Bosnia, 9/11, 7/7, and the Internet.

The novel succeeds with sublime precision, avoiding soapboxing and sentimental ruts. Its power arises partly from the narrative form that deepens with the accretion of detail and the passage of years. Chapters alternate with multiple viewpoints of various characters, but don't expect an equal distribution or conventional symmetry of voices.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Maine Colonial TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've been reading Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time over the past few weeks. (It's 12 volumes.) It's the story of a group of people over a period from the 1920s to the 1970s. I was saying to some friends that I wondered if anybody would do something like that---not 12 volumes, of course---about baby boomers. Only days later, I saw this book mentioned and had to read it.

We Had It So Good: A Novel follows several characters who meet at Oxford University in the 1960s. The principal focus is Stephen Newman from Los Angeles, who marries Andrea so that he can stay in England and avoid the draft. They move to London, have careers and children, acquire an old house that becomes insanely valuable and then begin to face aging and death.

For awhile, I thought this was yet another book portraying baby boomers as spoiled, narcissistic, materialistic sellouts who persist in believing in their own exceptionalism. It does seem like that on the surface. Stephen's children so clearly disdain everything about the lives of Stephen and Andrea, and Stephen himself sees their lives as a failure of their unique promise to change the world.

Stephen contrasts himself to his father, who arrived in New York from Poland, not yet a man, but who fended for himself and struck out across the country until he reached Los Angeles. With no education and no contacts, he worked until he had a fur storage business, married the woman he loved all his life, and had children he adored.

Stephen thinks: "His father . . . retained his feeling of the wonder of the world, he was still alive, not half-dead.
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