'Gloria' was sent to me as a review copy (it seems I'm doing well for these at the moment) and I was primarily interested in it for the history of it's author - Kerry Young was born in Jamaica to a Chinese father and Chinese African mother, she now lives in Leicestershire, I don't come across very many local authors in my reading so that alone was intriguing.
'Gloria' is a companion novel to Young's widely praised debut 'Pao', I haven't read the earlier book and didn't feel at any point through 'Gloria' that I was at a disadvantage, as the time frame seems to be the same in both books it's very definitely a companion rather than a sequel and as such works perfectly as a stand alone novel. I notice from Kerry's website (www.kerryyoung.co.uk) that a third novel is planned; 'Fay', Fay has a peripheral but significant role in 'Gloria' mostly as Pao's wife and I have a feeling that her story is going to be particularly interesting.
'Gloria' starts very promisingly with an attempted rape and actual murder, it's well done - shocking but not gratuitous, and a very convincing motivation for what follows. What follows is a flight from the scene of the crime for young Gloria, she heads from the country into Kingston with her little sister in tow to try and start a new life. It's 1938, the city is in turmoil and the options for young women with limited education are few and far between. Shop work is followed by domestic service - which is little more than slavery, and that eventually is followed by prostitution. Gloria is a capable woman so eventually she finds other, though perhaps just as morally dubious, ways of making money. She also develops an interest in socialist politics.
I loved the first three quarters of this book, Gloria is an interesting creation; she's struggling both with her own past and with the wider cultural issues post slavery. As able as she is she never quite shakes off feelings of worthlessness. The last quarter I found more problematical, I felt the it feel apart - the final resolution of the opening scene didn't convince me, revelations about other characters connections with Gloria felt at odds with what had gone before. It also became clear that nothing was really going to happen, all the loose ends get tied up more or less happily but not necessarily in a way that rang true for me.
In conclusion this is a bit of a mixed bag - there are things about it which I think are brilliant; especially the dialogue, Jamaican and Chinese characters both have a distinctive rhythm to their speech which feels pitch perfect - not overdone, not intrusive, but very atmospheric but in the end there was (for me at least) a few niggling things which didn't quite come off properly or live up to the early promise of the book.