Jubilee

Jubilee Cover

Shelley Harris

It's 1977, the day of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, when a photographer captures a moment forever: a festive street party with bunting and Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze and, right in the centre of the frame, a small Asian boy staring intensely at the camera. The photo becomes infamous when it is adopted as a symbol of everything that is great and good about Britain, but what is the real story behind it? Relationships between the neighbours on Cherry Gardens are far from easy, and minor frictions threaten to erupt as the street party begins...Fast forward to the present and that boy, Satish, is now a successful paediatric heart surgeon, saving lives and families every single day. But he's living with a secret - he's addicted to controlled prescription drugs. A message about a proposed reunion of the children in the photograph throws his life into turmoil as he thinks back to Jubilee Day, and the events that changed his life for ever.

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 Cover

Richard: An assured debut from Shelley Harris – and shrewdly timed, too, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year.

Harris’s novel harks back 35 years to another royal jubilee; the Queen’s silver. At the heart of this rich, emotional story is a photograph, taken at one of the many street parties held up and down the country. It is innocent enough on the surface and quaintly dated, too – Crimplene, flares and terrible haircuts adorn the smiling figures sitting at a trestle-table in a street in suburban Buckinghamshire.

Right at the front of the picture is a 12 year old Asian boy, Satish. He looks happy enough, a white friend’s arm slung around his shoulder. Satish stands out because his is the only non-white face in the crowd. The photograph becomes a sensation, and is published everywhere. Commentators say it represents the new, at-ease-with-itself multi-racial Britain. An Asian boy and his family are celebrating the Queen’s big day alongside their white neighbours, on equal terms. Integration has arrived.

Satish is mortified by his sudden celebrity. He is embarrassed and feels horribly exposed. More than that, he knows the now-iconic image is profoundly misleading. His vivid memories of the events leading up to the street party, and their devastating conclusion as it was in full swing, haunt him all his life. Now a successful cardiologist with a wife and family, Satish only wants to forget what happened that day. But the photograph – and the others in it – make that impossible. As his past and present lock themselves on a traumatic collision course, Satish realises the time has come for him to face the demons of his childhood.

Judy: My own memories of 1977 are vivid, because I had just given birth for the first time. Harris’s sense of period is spot-on. Her descriptions of fashion, television, pop music and the emergence of punk, are totally authentic. But it is her understanding of what it was like to be an Asian family living amongst white ones that really makes the story sing. Gradually we realise that although Satish’s neighbours see themselves as welcoming and unprejudiced, bigotry and intolerance lurk just below the surface. It doesn’t take much to expose them and poor Satish’s ghastly experiences on the day of the street party are truly anguishing. It is no wonder he wants to forget them.

Once the fuss surrounding the photo dies down, Satish thinks he can return to comforting obscurity. Unfortunately the man who took the snap, a local newspaper photographer, has other ideas. The picture is his ticket to better things and to Satish’s horror, it is adapted for the album cover of a punk band (clearly based on the Sex Pistols). The image goes global as a classic of Britpop art and Satish is more famous than ever. Worse, thirty years on, The Sunday Times wants to commission a re-take, featuring everyone in the original from 30 years earlier.

Satish comes under huge pressure to agree. He has never spoken to anyone about that humiliating day – not even his wife. No-one understands his deep reluctance to have anything to do with the project and we, the readers, are only slowly let into his dreadful secret. That makes for an arresting, compelling read. Unputdownable.

Reviews & Comments

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  • The author writes with compassion and does make you aware of how difficult it must have been for refugees to settle into life in England in the 70's. I remember them as being exotic and separate. I was young then and she evokes the era really well, and the sense of freedom we had and therefore the scrapes we got into really came across, and also the fact that children were just left to get on with growing up and mostly invisible to adults. But i was disappointed with this book, I felt it was all drawn out too much and felt no sympathy for the main character Satish, and that some of the incidents were a little silly and unrealistic. I also felt I should have been more interested in what life had dealt out to the other characters happened but just wasn't.

    Susan Evans

  • I really wanted to enjoy this book, but didn't feel I got to know any of the people well enough to care what happened to them. It was such a good idea for a story and great opportunity to make people aware, but it just didn't

    PJD

  • I very much enjoyed this book. It took me right back to the silver jubilee. I was the same age as the main character. A compelling story that examines racial prejudice and snobbery . The characters are believable. I found myself feeling very nostalgic when there were references to Aqua Manda. In places the pace is a little slow, but I recommend it as a thought provoking read.

    Linda

  • Sorry but only an ok sort of book

    Su Trinder

  • An okay book. Thought the content might be difficult having read the blurb, but not at all. Wouldn't say don't read but wouldn't say you must buy either.

    Su Trinder

  • as with all books I read I really wanted to like this one but just didn't. The story is told in 1977 & the present, skipping from one to the other suddenly, which I found quite confusing. I found it drawn out and a chore to finish. None of the characters were all that likeable, in fact they all seemed rather dull. As for the secret, it took so long to reveal then it was "Is that it?"

    ruth

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