Whose Turn for the Stairs?
This debut novel (the author has previously published non-fiction) is set in Glasgow and covers the year 1949 in a particular tenement close, getting to know all the different inhabitants, their problems, joys and sorrows. It is almost like a series of slices of life as with each chapter we visit the next neighbour. The title refers to the fact that each of the neighbours must take their turn to clean the communal area, but it is also a metaphor for the community spirit and close interrelations of these neighbours and friends.
The novel conjures up a lost era of tight-knit communities and late ’40s life, with its rationing, making do, trips to the laundrette, attitudes of the time, etc. If you were alive then, you will be sodden with nostalgia by the end as the sense of time and place really lives in the reader’s mind. If, like me, you are too young, this is a wonderful introduction to the way things were. It touches on serious issues such as the aftermath of war, domestic violence and poverty but also focuses strongly on the humour, traditions and strong friendships of these people all sharing one roof under the watchful matriarchal eye of Granny Thompson to whom all secrets are confided. It is the literary equivalent of a hot water bottle, and while the reader may regret the loss of such close neighbourly relations, sharing the toilet with your neighbours and having to go down a passageway clutching your key will probably not be on the list of regrets.