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This is Chris Chalmers debut novel and it’s a cracking read. With the central location of Clapham Common, Five to One has four stories framed by a fifth: a helicopter crash that introduces the book and brings the different strands together at the end. The four main stories focus on the lives and loves of: Ian, an ex-city worker turned gardener; Glory, a care assistant in an old age home; Tony, a fantastically bitchy and slightly gullible Kiwi ad exec; and Mari, a local estate agent.
Initially I found it difficult to get to grips with all the characters, but as the book progressed it became easier and easier to follow, until I was eventually racing through, eager to find out how the stories would end. There is also quite a bit of cynicism towards relationships which I guess is at odds with my romantic view of the world, but as we got towards the end it did become a poignant study of genuine love in our big and fantastically diverse city.
I’m a complete Londonophile, though admittedly a North-London-centric-Londonophile, even so I enjoyed getting to know another bit of our city. Chalmers is a real master at creating different voices, and there is genuine skill here both in the way that he has structured the book and also the individuality of the characters. The subject matter and shape of the book reminded me of John Lanchaster’s ‘Capital’, and David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’. I hope ‘Five to One’ proves to be popular, and we get to read lots more from Chalmers in the future.