No, not the Clash song but rather a novel about making things right with one’s relatives who’ve passed away, and a few who are still alive; the title of both the song and the novel do refer back to the same thing, however: the BBC’s standard opener for their broadcasts during World War II.
The book begins with an explanatory (more or less) prefacing prologue, in which the protagonist, Martin, now an adult, is reminded of a pivotal period in his adolescence. The main body begins with a dustup on the last day of school between Martin (and his two buddies) and the school bully (and his two goon sidekicks). Things start to go wrong in the classroom when Martin’s friend, an Asian Indian named Pinak, speaks up about the not-so-heroic nature of the World War II era general to whom the school is about to erect1 a statue (in Carrara marble no less). The great-grandson of the general, a classmate, takes them up on that outside the school after classes end for the day, which results in Manetti, Martin’s other friend, lobbing a rock at Lowery…and Manetti is then kicked out because of the damage, rather than Lowery for provoking the attack2.
Martin’s grandmother, sinking into dementia, calls Martin, himself struggling with depression, at random times of the day and night over the first weeks of the following summer; she mentions a Philco cathedral radio3 to which she listened during World War II, and asks “Did that little boy4 find you?” The grandmother dies shortly after the second of these calls, and Martin finds out that he has inherited the radio his Nana mentioned. Already struggling with school, Martin asks for and is permitted to take a semester off after the fight at school and his grandmother’s death, on the condition that he do independent study projects during that time.
Always a vivid dreamer, Martin begins having what appear to be only dreams. The first, a real dream, involves his grandfather (husband of the grandmother who’s just died) searching frantically through a room for “Jimmy”, the boy Martin’s Nana mentioned to him, but shortly afterward, Jimmy leans out from behind the Philco and speaks to Martin directly.
…and it’s not a dream. Or is it? Over the next few weeks, Martin apparently travels back in time several times to the Blitz in London to Jimmy, an eight-year-old boy living then and there. During these visits, Jimmy drops references to various events and people at the time that might lend credence to his claim, if only Martin can prove them! Some are easily checked, such as Joseph Kennedy sending his family home prior to the bombings, while others are more obscure–did Arsenal play at any other arenas during the Blitz than their usual one? As Martin becomes more involved with this visitor from the past, he begins researching the time period while awake. At first this is simply an attempt to prove whether Martin’s connection to Jimmy is real or only a dream, but subsequently as school projects, and finally as a way to carry out the mission that Jimmy has left with him: tell Jimmy’s father, still alive so many decades later, that he did do a good job with his son, but did not kill the man he knocked out.
This is an interesting combination of spiritualism and Catholicism, family relations, alcoholism and mental illness, the past and the present. There are, of course, several things to keep in mind. First off, this book is very different from Bloor’s first novel, Tangerine; it’s much more of a fantasy than the strictly reality based (though somewhat surreal) setting of Tangerine. Secondly, Catholicism plays a large part in the book; if religion bothers you, don’t read this book…though it didn’t strike me as inappropriate here, I know many people are bothered by the suggestion that spiritualism and angel visitations have anything to do with the relatively sober modern religions. While I know many people strongly encourage kids to read religious works, this isn’t that kind of religious book; others prefer their children’s reading to be purely secular.
What to read next? If you liked the World War II setting, try the “Children’s War” blog–the link’s listed below. If you like the dream-or-time travel aspect into history, try Cameron’s Court of the Stone Children.
1for those readers with a particularly juvenile-male sense of humor, actually you’re not too far wrong here; the person’s not entirely nice
2isn’t it amazing what you can get away with when your family donates flipping great wodges of money to a school?
3keep an eye on the radio
4keep an eye on the little boy…