I recently came across a television programme on Channel 4 in Britain called, ‘My Family Secrets Revealed’. It’s a kind of genealogical antiques roadshow, where people who have questions about their ancestry or have reached a roadblock in their own research meet with a team of experts to find out the information. Obviously, the show highlights the most colourful or surprising of stories but its fascinating how intriguing some of the lives of those we would consider ordinary might be.
With this in mind, I was looking forward to reading this months second book review, it’s The Six Loves of Billy Binns, by Richard Lumsden. Published by Tinder Press (www.tinderpress.co.uk) on the 24th January.
The titular character Billy has lived for well over a century. He is now residing in an old people’s home in London. He decides to write down his memories and give them to his son. He feels he has been in love several times and would like to experience the feeling of love one last time before he dies. He starts to reminisce about the women he has loved in the past and through these memories we are taken on a journey through the history of the 20th century.
Born into a poor working-class family in London in 1900. The story of his birth provides a mystery which carries through most of the book. We pass through his childhood and teenage years, getting to know him. Still underage to enlist, Billy never the less joins the army at the beginning of the Great War. We know this horrendous experience adversely affected a generation of young men, and Billy’s experience, I felt defined him. The war and losses of friends clearly and unsurprisingly affect him. After his return home he adjusts the facts of the events to show himself in a better light and tries to move on with his life. Not a problem I thought, confession and breast beating would help no one. He meets a girl, a very fortuitous match, and falls in love. However, he then makes a series of choices that will affect the rest of his life.
I did struggle with this book, as I find it hard to read a story where I feel no sympathy or empathy with the main character and no more so than with Mr. Billy Binns. However, I pressed on, hoping that he would redeem himself and I could root for him once more. I shall not give away any further details of the plot and leave it to other readers to decide how they feel about Billy at the end of the story.
There is good and bad in all of us. I was left feeling that Billy is a flawed human who has experienced tragedy and bad luck, but that this is sometimes caused by his own stupidity and selfishness. Your interpretation and leanings to hero or villain will depend on your own internal compass. Its easy to be righteous from the comfort of your armchair. I’m sure most of our lives wouldn’t bear such scrutiny.
This English actor, writer and composer Richard Lumsden’s (www.richardlumsden.com) first novel. He has worked in film, TV and theatre for over 30 years and has appeared in films such as Sense and Sensibility (1995), Sightseers (2012), Downhill (2014) and most recently Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman (2017). He was previously married to Emma Thompson’s sister the actress Sophie Thompson.
The Six Loves of Billy Binns was a moving and thought provoking read. What will we do to preserve ourselves and for love? Life is full of what ifs? I found myself imagining different plot turns if Billy had chosen different options. I felt quite exasperated with him at some moments!
A man as old as the century was a good plot device. The historical references were well researched and I felt the love stories were anchored beautifully in each time. I had previously read, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce and ‘The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson and this I found was a similar style of read.
This is a book I’ll be recommending to friends and will reread. Persist and enjoy until the end. It stays in your head and it’s worth it. So head down to your local book shop, library or download a copy or an audio book and see whether you will stand with or against Mr Binns.
Reviewed by Georgina Murphy
This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought, go to their sites listed below. Then once you’ve read the book comeback and leave a comment stating whether you agree or disagree.