The Report by Jessica Francis Kane – Book Review

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, ┬ámoving 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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8 comments to The Report by Jessica Francis Kane – Book Review

  • I, too, am completely unfamiliar with the Bethnal Green tragedy. I am definitely going to see if my library has this book though. it sounds fascinating!

  • I’ve never heard of this, but any kind of historical event (especially in WWII) is something I would pick up in a heartbeat. The only downside is that sometimes the prose is dry (glad this one didn’t fall into that category!)

  • I have been intrigued by this event for years and when I first heard of THE REPORT I thought I should add it to my list. Thanks for letting me know that I need to pick it up.

  • I have this one on the TBR shelves, but I have to admit I’ve been a bit humdrum about picking it up. I guess I should reconsider!

  • I’m reading your review and thinking “how did I not know about this book?”

    Yikes…I must read this!

  • Oh, I totally need to read this book. Thanks for the great review.

  • Mark

    Great review of “The Report”. This is the first I’ve heard of this one and on the list it goes. Did you mention this one of LT?


  • Jen- I couldn’t agree with you more about The Report. I absolutely loved it. The understated title fits the novel perfectly – it’s not so much about the tragedy as it is about the aftermath. This book addresses big questions through a deceptively simple story: What is the truth, what is causation, and how should they be reported? What is the difference between blame and responsibility? What happens when those who should accept responsibility don’t? What is the proper role of an investigator in the aftermath of a crisis: fact-finder or healer? All of these questions (which remain completely relevant today) swirl around a well-told story with characters that are as deep and sad as the tragedy itself. Thanks for the recommendation. It’s going on our staff pick shelf today — and I’ll make sure it has a Devourer of Books bookmark in it too!