I don’t think I have ever been asked ‘what my book is about’ so many times in one week as I have whilst reading this unassuming, rather slim novel by Jessica Francis Kane. Perhaps it’s the ambiguous title that has got people’s tongues wagging but I have subsequently been greeted with a rather uncomfortable silence when I explain the terribly tragic event that this ‘report’ focuses on.
On March 3rd, 1943, 173 people (including 62 children) were crushed to death whilst making their way down into Bethnal Green tube station to shelter from the bombers that had all but destroyed the east end of London by the end of the war. It was the single largest loss of civilian life caused by a ‘non military incident’ during WWII, and still the largest to date on the London Underground. The question on everyone’s lips (and certainly on Book Snob‘s – who drew my attention not only to this book, but the entire incident itself) is, why the gubbins do none of us know about this!? Of course, I’m sure Grandma, and even Mummy and Daddy Relish are aware of this disaster, but why did no-one think to mention it whilst we trawled through textbooks in history class at school?
This is a perfect example of how far removed younger people are becoming from significant events in history like this one. Yes, the avid readers among us may happen to stumble upon such enlightening books, but the reality is that many don’t and I find it desperately sad that my bright, well-educated friends walk down these tube steps every single day and, unless they happen to take a fleeting glance at the small commemorative plaque that was so very belatedly tacked to the side of the station, they would have no idea of the tragedy that took place under their feet a mere 68 years ago…
I feel like a bit of a miserable sod reading about such a sad event at such a festive time but I honestly only picked this up out of shock at my complete ignorance and a burning desire to learn…..not sheer morbidity I assure you. Kane has very cleverly created a fictional account, not only of the event itself, but the inquiry following the event and the report put together by magistrate Laurence Dunn that attempted to make some sense of this freak accident.
Did the strange noise created by a new model of anti-aircraft missile coupled with the rumour of an impending attack set to rival the one that destroyed Berlin panic the crowd into pushing and creating a crush akin to that seen at Hillsborough in 1989? Or did the rising tensions with the local populace and the recent influx of immigrants, particularly Jews, have any connection with the disaster?
The ins and outs are thus explored, (along with a little creative license from our author with regards to the specifics) but I have to admit that, although it was a very harrowing yet thoroughly interesting read, it does seem a bit of a random choice of first novel for a woman who was born and grew up in the U.S. It leaves me wondering whether she has a personal relationship with the event or whether she just made a discovery and had a burning story to tell.
This book was all in all a very informative account of a very harrowing time for eastenders. It can be a little distant to the individual human stories at times but I suppose that’s all in keeping with ‘The Report’ approach. A sad, intriguing, though clearly not a very festive read!