Monday, 10 December 2012

New from Five Leaves, London E1 by Robert Poole

London E1

I have yet to find out who suggested this book for our New London Editions series. All the usual suspects say it was not them, so who was it who found this otherwise completely forgotten book? London E1 was first published by Secker in 1961. There was one review as far as we know, in the Yorkshire Post by Anthony Burgess, taking time off, perhaps from writing A Clockwork Orange. Did the book sell well? We don't know. But two years later Robert died, probably from an accidental overdose of painkillers. There had been talk of another book but all trace has vanished and Robert and London E1 slipped from public memory. Robert Poole was born a few yards from Brick Lane, the setting of this novel. He described his education as "practically nil". His later life included service in the Navy, various dead-end jobs and the Merchant Navy. He jumped ship, changed his name and became a broadcaster in New Zealand before being caught and deported. His last known job was running a Bingo stall in Margate.
What makes London E1 interesting is that the book was set in Brick Lane before, during and after WWII. The Jews were leaving and new settlers were moving in, "the Indians". The young "Jimmy Wilson" had an awful life of poverty and violence, but was fascinated by the white woman Peggy, a prostitute who worked with the Indians, and her mixed race daughter Pinkie who show him the possibility of escape from his family and his limited horizons. I can't think of any other novel that describes that changing world, written so close to the time by one who was there.
As a result of a couple of earlier blog mentions of Robert Poole Five Leaves is now in touch with some of his relatives and we expect some will join the broadcaster Alan Dein and Rachel Lichtenstein (who has written a foreword to the book) in discussing the book on Tuesday January 29th, 6.30pm at the Brick Lane Bookshop. Everybody is welcome. There will be refreshments from 6.30 with the event running from 7.00-8.30 or so. Please email if you would like to attend. In the meantime copies of London E1 are available from now, or from Brick Lane and other bookshops later this week.

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