Amanda Craig’s compassionate heart and intelligent, creative mind
Amanda Craig, a writer who was born and spent formative years in South Africa, but now lives in London, combines the ability to create hugely satisfying narratives, deal with meaningful subjects in a non-polemical manner, people her worlds with well-written characters, and, at sparingly chosen points, offer beautiful, lyrical, elevated, writing, without being self-consciously ‘poetic’
In many ways, she reminds me of another author, Barbara Trapido, again with a South African childhood, as both share the ability to look at England both from within and without, give deep themes a light touch, and enjoy at times playing with myths, fairy stories or adaptations of classic plays into a more modern, ironic setting.
Hearts and Minds looks at London and twenty-first century England, through the eyes of 5 immigrants. 3 of them are legal, privileged, middle class migrants, 2 are illegals, one an ‘economic’ migrant from Eastern Europe, the other, victim of Mugabe-torn Zimbabwe.
Craig likens her approach with this book to Dickens – she is at heart a storyteller, a narrator, but also has investigative journalist skills, and researches the hidden, dirty, foetid underbelly of London life to give realism and credence to the story she weaves from her research. In many ways, this wonderful book reminded me less of Dickens than of another Victorian great, Trollope’s The Way We Live Now (Penguin Classics), a clear-eyed portrayal of the hypocritical face of Victorian England and the corruption and savagery behind the mask.
Craig’s often satirical, slightly savage pen, when dealing with some of the powerful movers and shakers of society, is heightened because she is always able to write from the heart.
She recounts the truth of terrible things, from the heavy handed methods of political dictators to the savagery visited upon women, seen as commodities to be trafficked, to the whittling away of compassion by the corporate state, obsessed with number crunching whilst forgetting the human edge behind the numbers. Her writing in this book fills the reader with desolation, despair at the sense we are heading towards destruction – but we are held, always, on the edge of realising redemption through the tiny accretions of goodness, individuals in their small ways making a huge difference. All of her immigrants have their hopeful humanity to the fore. These ordinary people, making a difference are, I guess, how we all hope to be, in our best dreams for ourselves.
As an added little ‘fillip’ for keen Craig readers, many characters from earlier novels flit through the pages – clever Craig for using memorable names – Ivo Sponge, Hemani, et al. Some of these characters have a central role in this book – human rights lawyer Polly, for example, some are briefly glimpsed – for example, Benedick, central character in my personal ‘Craig favourite’ – In A Dark Wood – is briefly recognised by one of the central 5 in this book, as a ‘famous face’ in the audience at a concert. This book, like all Craig’s writing, is a perfect ‘stand-alone’; one doesn’t NEED to have read any of the other books. Her insertion of ‘regular cast members’ is not a writer showing off, or trying to make her fans feel self-congratulatory at spotting the allusion – what it does do, is to add to something which permeates her writing – the sense of connectedness, despite our solipsistic tendency to think we may live our lives in disconnect. A book of darkness, despair – and fiercely warm hopefulness. Years a writing, as Craig was seriously ill for some time during its gestation, very well worth waiting for. I hope her next one will happen sooner rather than later.