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Love and Fallout - Book of the Month

by Kathryn Simmonds

Oh, the mud, the mud! Greenham Common in the early 1980s. Women lived there in tents and benders in all weathers, in desperate privation, some for a day, some for weeks and some for many years. It was one of the most prolonged and passionate episodes of peaceful protest and civil disobedience in recent history and it was a contributing factor in the decision to remove US cruise missiles from the UK, yet it has become little more than a footnote in the history of the twentieth century. LOVE AND FALLOUT takes a wry look at this extraordinary period from the point of view of a young woman, Tessa, whose life is changed by her involvement in the Women's Peace Camp.

The novel begins in the present day. Tessa is forty something, earnest and frumpy, and her best friend has misguidedly volunteered her for a makeover on a TV show. Apart from the hurt and embarrassment this causes, the incident shakes up her marriage, blowing apart the semblance of a solid, if joyless, relationship. When challenged about his collusion in the programme, her husband, Pete, responds,

“..I tell you what, I don't want to live like this any more, I'm sick of you carrying on like a one woman United Nations. I'm sick of ethical bananas and carbon footprints and hemp bloody shower get. I don't want a goat for Christmas. I don't want to walk around my own house in the winter wearing three jumpers. I want to fill the bath up, I want to...”
“You want, you want. Why don't you just have done and trade me in for someone else then?”

One of the many unintended consequences of the make-over débâcle is that the publicity from the programme churns up ghosts from Tessa's muddy past, forcing her to remember things she had done her best to forget. The book then alternates between her memories of the camp - of intimate relationships forged against a backdrop of Greenham Gripe, stand pipes and intense political debate - and the messy business of her present life. As the eighteen-year-old Tessa's story unfolds, it gradually becomes clear that she has spent most of her adult life trying to atone for a perceived betrayal and its terrible consequences.

Kathryn Simmonds has won critical acclaim as a poet, winning the Forward Prize for Best First Collection with SUNDAY AT THE SKIN LAUNDRETTE. She has also written short stories and drama for Radio 4, but this is her first novel. It is a fantastic debut, captivating, funny, brilliantly observed and a great read.

Published by Seren Books, 352pp.

Clare Chandler

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