The narrator of the novel is Vivien Kovacs the only child of Hungarian immigrant parents, Ervin and Berta who keep themselves to themselves and are even secretive about their past with their own daughter. It is a tantalizing portrait of life for this family in 1970’s London, it is only after Vivien is grown up and once again living back at home after a personal disaster that she decides to discover her roots. Using snippets of information she has overheard as a child she discovers her father’s estranged brother Sandor. This sets off a chain of mainly tragic events but at least she learns the truth about her family.
This paragraph from the novel sums up for me how Linda Grant used clothes in this novel as an allegory of personalities.
‘The clothes you wear are a metamorphosis. They change you from the outside in. we are all trapped with these thick calves or pendulous breasts, our sunken chests, our dropping jowls. A million imperfections mar us. These are deep flaws we are not at liberty to do anything about except under the surgeon’s knife. So the most you can do is put on a new dress, a different tie. We are forever turning into someone else and should never forget that someone else is always looking’
The clothes descriptions are a clever use of imagery which I felt painted a very vivid portrait of not only the clothes but helped bring the characters personality and appearance alive on the page.