Portobello, £12.99 Order for £11.69 ((free p&p)from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Report, By Jessica Francis Kane

A wartime tragedy revisited

Jessica Francis Kane begins her novel with the preface of The 9/11 Commission Report: "We want to note what we have done, and not done." Her story focuses on another human tragedy, in the East End of London on 3 March 1943, when 173 residents of Bethnal Green rushing into the tube station-turned-air-raid shelter were suffocated in a Hillsborough-like crush. It was the biggest civilian disaster during the Second World War; no bombs were dropped on Bethnal Green that night. A private investigation into the incident conducted by a magistrate, Laurence Dunne, was commissioned but suppressed by the government until after the war.

Kane's debut novel shows that the handling of a public disaster is burdened by its own politics, so that reporting its causes and effects is never entirely objective nor comprehensive. Those who commission the investigation require certain questions to be answered and, often, others to be left alone. So it was in the case of the Bethnal Green disaster, according to Kane's fiction. The events are revisited by a film-maker, Paul Barber, whose adoptive family was involved and who three decades later begins to unravel what the report left out, and why.

Kane's strengths lie in her tidy, well-made plot, and her theme of anti-Jewish prejudice triggered by the disaster. Simmering tensions between the local community and immigrant Jews are heightened after rumours spread that the crush was a result of "Jewish panic". An angry public is hungry for blame: "You want someone to admit responsibility, someone held accountable."

It is a courageous venture for an American author to write about a British, Blitz-based tragedy. Kane gets it right for the most part, Cockney slang included, with very few slips, although a character jarringly retires to a "den" at one point. Yet the emotional impact of the disaster remains maddeningly distant.

There are some powerful testimonies from witnesses, survivors (including the guilt-ridden), those who lost their loved ones among the 84 women, 27 men and 62 children found "suffocated in a heap". There are moving details – of mothers seconds from death managing to pass their babies across the crowd to safety – but not nearly enough. Even central characters remain at a remove, so that one almost wishes for more flashbacks, however lazy a literary device this may be, to lend greater emotional depth to a truly bizarre and horrifying story.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea