Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig

This novel starts with a murder. An unknown man is disposing of the body of an unknown woman.

She had been like so many Londoners, a person who did not fit in anywhere else, and who had come to the city hoping to find a new beginning. Now though, she is just one more discarded thing which will be counted as lost, if she is counted at all.

The story concerns the lives of five people struggling to live in London. Polly, a human rights lawyer trying to cope with the pressure of being a single parent to two demanding children. Kate, an American who is putting her life back together after a breakdown. Ian, a South African who is working as a teacher in a rough school. Anna, a fifteen year old girl who thought she was coming to London from Ukraine to work as a chambermaid in a big hotel, but is being forced to work as a prostitute. Job, who has fled Zimbabwe after being arrested and tortured there.

It can be very hard to live in a big city. For those with choices it can be easy to push principles to one side just to get by. Polly, despite her work as a human rights lawyer, employs a foreign au-pair at well under the minimum wage. Ian is wondering whether it is worth going into work every day to face a class who are unable to concentrate and don't want to learn, alongside colleagues who are completely demoralised. He is considering moving to teach at a private school.

For people like Anna and Job there are no choices. Anna's story is particularly disturbing. As I was reading it I was thinking, 'Right now, while I'm reading this in my safe, warm home, there are young women and girls being treated like Anna.' Job is the moral centre of the book. His visa has run out, he is in the country illegally, so he has to take work where he can find it. He is excruciatingly lonely, but he retains a kernel of optimism and never loses his sense of right and wrong. He is a good man.

All the characters are linked by the initial murder, though they don't know it. I thought the book was a real page turner, I couldn't put it down. I will look for more by Amanda Craig.


  1. This does sound good. I bought a copy back when it was longlisted for the Orange prize but I still haven't got to it. You might just have inspired me!

  2. Jane - I didn't realise that it had been longlisted for the Orange prize. I spotted it in the library and Amanda Craig's name seemed familiar. It is a good read. I may've made it sound a bit depressing, but there are a couple of rays of sunshine in the gloom!