I first learned about The Report by Jessica Francis Kane during Book Blogger Appreciation Week, when Jen at Devourer of Books chose it as her forgotten treasure. Her urging persuaded me to request The Report from my local library.
About the Book:
“London, 1943: Tube stations across London have been converted into bomb shelters. Night after night, while sirens wail in Bethnal Green, immigrants and East Enders alike sleep on the tracks and wait. But on March 3, as the crowd hurries down the staircase, something goes wrong, and 173 adults and children lose their lives in a deadly crush. When the devastated neighborhood demands an inquiry, the job falls to the young magistrate Laurence Dunne.
“Among the many witnesses Dunne interviews are the policeman on duty that night, the devoted shelter warden, and two women whose fateful encounter on the stairs remains shrouded in mystery and confusion. He finds the truth at the center of the event to be elusive, even damaging. As Dunne struggles to complete his task without causing hurt, he makes some surprising choices. Several decades later, an encounter with a young documentary filmmaker forces him to revisit his decisions.”
(From the jacket flap)
The Report definitely had potential to be dry. A novel about writing a government report? I was skeptical.
I ended up being pleasantly surprised. Kane peopled her story with characters who were touchingly human. From the Bethnal Green residents to the magistrate to the local priest, the people I met drew me in. At the same time, Kane held as much focus on the event as she did on her characters, so that neither aspect felt less important than the others. The Report maintained a lovely balance between the big picture and the personal details.
The Report was also a fascinating look at how history is written. The record we have of what came before us contains only the parts that were recorded. How drastically can the omission of a fact or two affect how we perceive an event? Under what circumstances is such an omission acceptable? As I watched Dunne wade through testimony after testimony and finally write his report, as I spent time with each of Kane’s characters, as the layers of confusion surrounding the tragedy were peeled back, I found myself pondering those questions and more.
Wikipedia has an interesting article about the Bethnal Green wartime disaster, but it does include what some would consider spoilers since it recounts the whole event and investigation. Read at your own risk!
Overall, The Report was an interesting look at a lesser known historical even through the eyes of people imagined to have been there. The tragedy at the tube station isn’t history to them–it’s real life. Kane does a wonderful job placing the reader there beside her characters. If you enjoy well-written historical fiction, give The Report by Jessica Francis Kane a shot.
Have you ever read a novel that transforms a potentially dull historical event into a fascinating story?