Book Review: “The Lucky Ones” by Mark Edwards

As I noted in my review of The Retreat by Mark Edwards, reading that book and my comments on social media, I realised that I needed to re-read The Lucky Ones. This is what I have recently done.

The timing actually worked out well as I was visiting Shropshire (‘the rural environs of Shropshire, one of England’s most beautiful and sparsely populated counties’ as The Lucky Ones says), where the book was set, when I started the book again. Although I remembered that the book was set in Shropshire, I’d forgotten just how much it moves around the county. Indeed, on the morning that I visited Church Stretton and Much Wenlock, I read chapters that were set in both places. That I am from Shropshire myself (‘a Shropshire lad‘) probably helps add to my affinity to the book since I can visualise so many of the places mentioned, since I have been there. But it’s more than that, I can identify with some of the sentiments of the protagonist. For example,

All of this was why I had been so keen to leave here. It felt, to my teenage self, like a dead place, its face turned so keenly towards the past that the present – let alone the future – barely existed.

and

When my teenage hormones kicked in and the appeal of Pooh Sticks waned, I grew to hate this place. It was boring. I spent a lot of time in my room playing on my ZX Spectrum.

This is certainly something I can relate to and some of what I discuss in my book Frankie Fans Say. But I have a much stronger pull to Shropshire now, whether this is nostalgia or something else, I don’t know. But again, I could relate to the protagonist when he notes

coming back had felt like a necessary retreat. I needed to recuperate, to heal. I needed mental and physical space,

As for the places that get visited, as mentioned, it includes Church Stretton (the area where I lived for many years) – described as ‘a pretty town, nestled in a valley at the heart of the Long Mynd, part of the Shropshire hills, a designated Area of Outstanding Beauty’ in the novel. As the book says, you can’t ‘help but admire the green hills that reared up on all sides’, with the Caradoc being my personal favourite.

I can also appreciate the comments about Shrewsbury, though my experience of it (partly from going to an international school, Concord College, no doubt) is that it’s a lot less white than the book suggests… and certainly doesn’t feel as threateningly white as some areas of cities (Shrewsbury is a town, not a city, by the way) that I have visited or lived in.

There are many characters in the book – but not so many that I couldn’t keep track of them (I tend to be bad with names) and the descriptions and personalities, as with all of Mark’s books, are so realistic. Having recently bought a new car, I could certainly identify with the character who, in relation to their car, thinks ‘Owning it, driving it, made her ridiculously happy.’

I also like the concept of ‘mentionitis’ that Mark introduces – something which I’m sure many of us have been guilty of over the years – where you start mentioning a particular person’s name too much.

Another term I liked was ‘media catnip’, which I may try to bring into my academic writing about the JL123 crash one day, such as when discussing the novel & dramatizations, Climber’s High, which is partly about the reporting of the crash, which also discusses the relative importance of different lives (‘as if the life of a celebrity was worth far more than an ordinary civilian’ as The Lucky Ones puts it).

Returning to the protagonist, he reflects,

When the sun was shining and you could hear birds twittering in the trees as a fat moggy strolled unhurriedly across a quiet road, I wondered why I had ever moved away from this place to London… But, of course, that was my forty-something self thinking; the teenage me had been stifled and bored.

For me it wasn’t London, it was Sheffield and I went for education. I did end up in London for a while, and then on to Cardiff. As I’ve got older, amongst other reasons, I have felt a pull back to Shropshire – though I still can’t imagine living there for a long time, though I suspect it could be a good place to go and write, and I know that Sarah Lotz, who Mark mentions in the acknowledgements and whom I’ve met a couple of times, is managing to do just that.

If I’m ever asked about my favourite books in general or my favourite book by Mark Edwards, I will always say The Retreat… and yet, checking my initial review on Amazon, I see the title of the review was that The Lucky Ones was my favourite. Perhaps I have three favourites The Retreat, The Hollows, and The Lucky Ones. They are all brilliant.

I really don’t want to say anything more about the plot of The Lucky Ones. It’s a fabulous book and I would urge you to read it. Hopefully we will also get to see it (and Mark’s other books) on the big screen – or at least as a TV adaptation.

As a couple of other final notes about what was going on as I read the book. First, Shrewsbury isn’t always as quiet and sleepy as people imagine. On one evening I was there, Shrewsbury Town were playing a football match. Despite being around 2 miles from the ground, the cheers during the penalty competition (which they won) were quite amazing and something I’d associate more from my time living in Sheffield and hearing the noise coming from Bramall Lane and Sheffield United fans (if I weren’t at the game myself). Hopefully I’ll get to a match at the new stadium one day, though I still miss the old one (where I went to my first ever match). Second, despite the title being The Lucky Ones, many of the people in the book are not lucky… and neither was I, as I tripped on some badly maintained pavement while out for a run back in Cardiff (training for the Cardiff Half-Marathon in 2022) and ended up in A&E, needing stitches. At least it gave me time to finish reading The Lucky Ones and then improving my score (sorry, improving my linguistic skills) on Duolingo.

Here are links to Mark’s other books which I have already written posts about:

For more information about The Lucky Ones see information about the book on Amazon.

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