Summer, 1962. Twenty-year-old Vivien Epstein, a Jewish hairdresser from Manchester, arrives in London following the death of her father. Alone in the world, she is looking for Jack Fox, a man she had a brief but intense love affair with some months before. But the only address she has for him leads to a dead end.
Determined to make a new life for herself, Vivien convinces Barb, the owner of Oscar’s hair salon in Soho, to give her a job. There, she is swept into the colourful world of the sixties – the music and the fashions, the coffee bars and clubs.
But still, Vivien cannot forget Jack. As she continues to look for him, her search leads her into the fight against resurgent fascism in East London, where members of the Jewish community are taking to the streets, in and around Ridley Road. Then one day Vivien finally spots Jack, but her joy is short-lived when she discovers his secret . . .
Vivien Epstein’s life looks set to change the minute she returns to her home in Manchester and sees the mysterious but rather gorgeous Jack Fox sat in her front room chatting to her father.
A whirlwind romance takes place between the pair, but twenty year old Vivien is left heartbroken when Jack disappears back to London and doesn’t contact her.
When Vivien’s beloved father dies she makes the decision that she is going to pack up and head to London on her own to look for Jack. She finds his address on an old letter when sorting through her father’s things and is determined to track Jack down and form a new life for herself amongst the bright lights of Soho.
After a shaky start Vivien finds accommodation and lands a job at Oscar’s, a leading hair salon where the girls working there soon take her under her wing. However, finding Jack proves to be more difficult than she anticipated.
East End London is not the most pleasant of places for a young Jewish girl to be trailing the streets looking for her lost love. It’s 1962 and fascism is strongly coming into force, targeting the Jewish community and re-igniting the beliefs of Hitler.
It’s through a series of events involving anti fascist protests on Ridley Road that Vivian finally comes face to face with Jack again and it seems she’s in for a shock…
There is so much I want to say about this novel. I had an inkling I might enjoy it as I’ve read books set in the sixties before and it’s very much an era I enjoy reading about. I like the fashion, the music, the way of life- there’s something about this time period that I find fascinating so I was eager to dive in to Ridley Road, however I had no idea just how much I would enjoy this eye-opening, compelling debut from Jo Bloom.
Before starting Ridley Road I knew little about fascism and just how prominent it was on the streets during the early sixties. No word of a lie; what I learnt from this novel really shocked me. The way that the Jewish community were treated makes for upsetting and at times, difficult reading. Jo Bloom must have put an extensive amount of research into this topic and she writes about it sensitively and authentically. The fascists’ behaviour and admiration towards Hitler is shocking and I can’t believe that I was unaware of the battles that the Jews faced such a short time after the horrors of World War II. Jo has written so passionately about this era that I am now thirsty to learn more about this period of history and the 43 and 62 Group.
I was a massive fan of Vivien’s throughout the story. She was a well formed, strong young lady who knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to go out and get it. The romance between her and Jack makes the perfect back drop for the story and it’s gripping and addictive to discover the struggles they encounter to be together. You’ll find yourself desperately hoping that they can overcome the difficulties that they face, although there are times throughout the story when their relationship looks bleak.
Jack is also an astounding character who I really admired. I was genuinely worried and concerned for him and found myself holding my breath of his behalf at times. Just a tad tense…
There’s is also a fantastic cast of supporting characters in Ridley Road. I found myself really warming to Stevie, Nettie and of course, the girls at Oscar’s. They made such a perfect team and I loved the relationship they had with one another.
Ridley Road is packed full of twists and turns and it’s never obvious what it going to happen or how things are going to turn out, which will keep you frantically turning the pages until you reach the conclusion.
This is a superb debut from Jo Bloom. Brilliantly researched, informative, shocking and extremely moving I can’t recommend this novel enough. Packed full of different themes with a brilliant range of characters, plus a heartbreaking romance thrown in on top I defy you to read this novel and not shed a tear/become completely engrossed/thoroughly enjoy it…
A massive thank you to Becke at PR Collective for offering me the chance to read and review Ridley Road. Don’t forget to check out my interview with author Jo Bloom here. ♥
I have worked as a freelancer in the communications field for the past fifteen years with a focus on arts publicity and e-learning. I also contributed to the book review section of Time Out, London for a few years. Prior to this I lived and worked in Prague and New York. I live in Brighton with my husband and son.