On the Up by Alice O’Keeffe
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publishing Date: 14th November 2019
Source: Received from the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 336
Genre: General Fiction (Adult)
By reading Style magazine, I was training myself not to want things. It was going quite well. I had already found that I did not want a pair of Yves Saint Laurent mules, a chandelier made from plastic antlers, or a diamond-encrusted necklace in the shape of a pineapple. I was still working on not wanting a fitted farmhouse kitchen in warm wood.
Sylvia lives in a flat on a council estate with her not-quite-husband Obe and their two young children. She dreams of buying a house on a leafy street like the one she grew up in. If she closes her eyes, she can see it all so clearly: the stripped floorboards, the wisteria growing around the door…
It’s not ideal that she’s about to be made redundant, or that Obe, a playworker, is never going to earn more than the minimum wage. As sleep deprivation sets in, and the RnB downstairs gets ever louder, Sylvia’s life starts to unravel.
But when the estate is earmarked for redevelopment, the threat to her community gives Sylvia a renewed sense of purpose. With a bit of help from her activist sister, and her film-maker friend Frankie, she’s ready to take a stand for what she believes in.
Warm, witty and brilliantly observed, On the Up is about relationships and community, finding a way through the tough times, and figuring out what’s really worth fighting for.
Sylvia and her nearly husband Obe live in a council estate flat with their two young children – toddler Larkin and a few months old That Baby (also known as Elliot). She dreams of owning her own home, with a garden for the children, but they will never be able to buy it. Or maybe they will? Is this stinky, old, half – demolished house their salvation? Sylvia is really desperate to move, especially as they’re constantly disturbed by their neighbour Dawn, with loud music and partying. Sylvia keeps a journal for the councils Anti Social Behaviour Officer, that slowly turns into her logbook. And then comes the bombshell that Priory Court, where they live, will be sold for development – can things finally get better for the family?
Really, this book was absolutely brilliant in my opinion. It was so uplifting – yes, you’ve seen the characters struggling and even though they might have lost hope once or twice there was still so much optimism in them and in the way they were written that I simply didn’t want to leave their world. I don’t always need a rosy fictional world in my books, I really like when the story feels so realistic like this one, but there is still the chance of a happy ending. Yes, here the end was maybe too cheesy but other than that I adored this book.
The characters were really well observed and drawn and I warmed to them immediately. Sylvia and Obe are your normal characters, people we get to meet and see everyday, full of humour but also filled with sadness, being forced to face all your typical troubles and problems that life tends to bring with itself. Yes, Obe made me feel desperate sometimes, with his poetry and his calm aura and the “everything will be OK” attitude, but there was also a charm in it. I’ve immediately felt a connection with Sylvia and I could truly relate to her dreams, needs and desperation, I’d go crazy with such a neighbour as Dawn with my perfect pitch – I need silence to be able to sleep! Even though, as Obe might have pointed out, Sylvia’s needs are an endless cycle of want, I couldn’t blame her for wanting something more from life, for wanting something better. Their relationship was really well captured, showing their real struggles, as parents and as a couple.
I also really liked the supporting characters, even though we don’t get to know them really well, and it was great to see them coming together after the news broke that Priory Court is going to be sold off for re – development and they’re going to lose their homes.
The author is a brilliant observer of reality – she sees things as they really are and delivers them with wit, humour but also brutally honest. She wrote a book that shows a real life, but not in a desperate, grey, sad way. Even though it might not have been heavy emphasised in writing, it showed that there is usually a way out of troubles, and it did it in an entertaining way. It was simply warm, inviting and full of feel – good factor despite the fact that the characters’ lives were not beds full of roses. After reading the synopsis and the part that the Priority Court may be sold and that it immediately rises the community spirit I was afraid that it may be overdone in the story, that it will feel too cheesy and clichéd but I really like how the author has tackled this topic.
“On the Up” was warm and funny, sometimes touching and poignant read focusing strongly on family, friendships, relationships and community. It felt a little nostalgic but maybe it is the writing style? It was truly brilliant, light and engaging, and it didn’t sound like a debut. It was a witty and deep observation on what is important in life that I enjoyed from beginning to end – highly recommended!
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