The Room of Lost Things, By Stella Duffy

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The Independent Culture

There's an essential literalness to Stella Duffy's novel, in spite of its ambitiousness. In order to embrace the full multicultural diversity of London, as well as its history since the violence of the Second World War, Duffy has assembled an impressive cast of characters: Robert is the owner of a south London dry-cleaners, and the flat above it in which he has always lived. Akeel Khan, who is about to take over the business, was born in east London, while his family hail from Pakistan. In addition, we have the dispossessed: the Poet of the No. 345 bus, Dan and Charlie the tramps, Helen the nanny to a posh family, Marilyn the black health visitor, Stefan the gay middle-aged gym instructor, and so on. There are also flashbacks to key points in British cultural history, such as the swinging Sixties.

There's nothing wrong with this except that it feels a bit literal – a problem reflected in Duffy's prose when she tells us exactly what happens as it happens. Nice, uncontroversial and unambiguous statements such as "London has lots of parks" don't do this mixed world justice.

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