Greetings, readers! My name is Sareeta Domingo, and I’m an author and fiction editor. It’s my great pleasure to be bringing you a Book of the Week, each week here on Morning Mari.
Living in London, we’re all used to the iconic image of the red busses snaking through the city’s roads. But as the global pandemic continues, being on public transport feels like a risk and an indulgence, and as I look out of the windows of my flat—as much as I’m glad safety is being observed—it still feels unusual to see passengers spaced out and wearing masks.
So this week, my Book of the Week selection is a unique and compelling debut novel, cleverly set entirely on a fictional East London bus route over the course of a mere 36 minutes: The 392 by Ashley Hickson-Lovence.
The book is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of a cross-section of Londoners typical of the varied and vivid characters that intersect on public transport. There’s pregnant teenager Natalie; ironically near-blind racist football supporter Ray; Levi, who started out as a so-called criminal and is now inhabiting his own ironic about-turn as a barrister. There’s Irish widow Gloria who is contemplating the downhill slide of her latter years, and there’s also a parody-like portrait of politician Barney, who is filming a puff piece on board the bus who has a familiar air about him, if a somewhat surprising inner-life.
But there’s also a skilfully seeded brewing tension and dread about one of the other passengers and the bulky bag he’s carrying, that feeds into the particular existential threat that used to be pervasive in our minds before the novel coronavirus hit this year—that of terroristic threats against our modes of traversing this city.
Hickson-Lovence delves into the minds of disparate characters admirably, and plays on the anticipation and concern that our suspicions—and those of the passengers—will be met, using the novel to explore themes of prejudice, gentrification, fate and the sense of camaraderie that can spring up between seemingly disparate people. It’s a smart and engrossing novel that evokes London so tangibly, and that is why The 392 by Ashley Hickson-Lovence is my Book of the Week this week.