The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
Published by Graywolf Press
In 1943, a shelter in Bethnal Green, London became the site of the largest civilian accident of World War II. Citizens of Bethnal Green, anticipating a retaliatory air strike, crowded into the station. Before 9pm, 173 of them were dead, although the Germans did not bomb London that night. After the accident, there was much finger-pointing in many directions: from the lack of light and the late arrival of the constable to the general existence of Jewish refugees. In order to quell unrest, the government appoints the young and popular local magistrate, Laurence Dunne, to conduct a private investigation. He works with surprising speed to create a report he hopes will mend the broken ties of the city in general and Bethnal Green in particular.
When I picked up “The Report,” I expected a competent novelization of a fascinating historical event and mystery. I also expected the account to be somewhat dry, if interesting, based both on the less than titilating title and the fact that it is essentially the story of how a governmental report came to be. Still, I was interested enough in the Bethnal Green tragedy, of which I had never heard before, to give it a go.
How wrong I was to be expecting something dry!
Kane takes an ensemble cast of characters and manages to make all of their stories compelling, without spending so much time on character development that she loses the thread of the story. A major element in this success is the inclusion of a secondary storyline, that of a documentary film maker – who has his own ties to the tragedy – who contacts Dunne to enlist his help in a documentary that will memorialize the 30th anniversary of Dunne’s report. This storyline serves as a nice foil to the primary storyline, moving events along and explaining what is necessary, without being overly expository.
“The Report” is a surprisingly compelling novel about a seemingly unlikely subject. A fabulous read if you are at all curious to explore history and human nature. Highly recommended.
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