It's easy to forget how completely different the late 1950s were in Britain when compared with 2014. "The L-Shaped Room" byLynne Reid Banks is a perfect time capsule that puts us right back into that era. Even for readers who know about the differences it still a shocking read. Crass and cliched racial stereotypes abound and, lest we forget, this was how the majority of British people perceived "foreigners" living in Britain, and - at this book's heart - just what a taboo it was to be pregnant and unmarried.
"The L-Shaped Room" tells the story of Jane, a single young woman who falls pregnant. Jane is a brave character who decides to bring up the baby by herself, after her father throws her out of home. Her feelings of determination are also saturated by shame. To punish herself she rents a sordid L-shaped room at the top of a run- down boarding house in Fulham. To say more would be to ruin a story that initially felt incidental but became more compelling towards the book's conclusion.
The L-Shaped Room brilliantly evokes a grim era when women were routinely patronised and made to feel guilty, and when being single and pregnant exacerbated this treatment. It also perfectly chronicles the lives of people on the fringes of society thrown together in a boarding house. I realise this might make the book sound depressing, and it contains plenty of downbeat sections, however ultimately it is a novel about courage, friendship, self-discovery, family, and redemption. I thought it was a great read.
After reading the book I listened to a discussion with Lynne Reid Banks on BBC Radio 4's Book Club programme which was really interesting and further enhanced my enjoyment. Click here to listen.