The ‘Swinging Sixties’ are widely accepted to be a defining decade in Britain’s history. A time when Britain began to climb away from the atrocities of the Second World War and welcome in a new world of freedom and a generation breaking with convention. It is in this world David Wharton chooses to set his debut novel, Finer Things; a book where worlds collide and two young women learn what they need, and perhaps what they don’t, in order to survive.
Delia is a hoister – a professional shoplifter – working for a gang run by a ferocious matriarch who will not be slighted. Tess is an aspiring artist who has come to London to take up a place at a prestigious art school. They seem an unlikely pairing but after a chance meeting form an acquaintance which will ultimately lead their lives in directions neither could have imagined.
The setting is believable and Wharton’s descriptions give a vivid picture of the places they frequent. His characters too are likeable and each supporting figure in the book has their own interesting side story, particularly Jimmy, who allows Wharton to explore sensitive topics with subtlety and compassion without losing the context of the time period he is writing in. Depression, suicidal thoughts, homosexuality and aversion therapy are just some of the challenges Jimmy faces.
Having been pulled into the lives of the two leading women in the story, however, the reader might expect slightly more than what feels like a rushed conclusion and a very straightforward tying up of events. One might expect their lives to become more entwined with one another and wonder where the drama, the excitement, the climax is. It is a satisfying book in most ways and for anyone with an interest in the era a fascinating walk through sixties London but the reader is left with a feeling there could have been more and with some unanswered questions. What, for example, are ‘The Imps’ which appear so regularly alongside Delia’s thoughts? Perhaps everyone is to come to their own conclusion.