The Dreaming Suburb by R.F. Delderfield was first published in 1958 and it’s the first in Delderfield’s ‘Avenue’ books of which there are two.
The book’s first chapter takes place in Spring 1947, but in the next one we’re back in 1919, men are coming back form the trenches and discovering that all the promises they were given by the government meant nothing. Britain isn’t a place fit for heroes, it’s a place of unemployment and poverty for most ordinary people.
The story involves the inhabitants of Manor Park Avenue, it shelters a disparate collection of characters, one of the main ones being Jim Carver who came back from the war to discover that his wife had just died giving birth to her second set of twins. Jim throws himself into trade unionism and is involved in the General Strike.
The Dreaming Suburb leads us up to the beginning of World War 2 just 20 years after the end of the war to end all wars. Jim had been a pacifist after his experiences in the trenches, but he quickly changes his feelings when Hitler begins to rampage across Europe.
The author is a straightforward storyteller, there’s nothing fancy or poetic about his writing, but his characters are so well written, he was obviously a great observer of people. There are several families involved, all very different, and the children usually turn out to be very different from their parents. The strict Methodists have unknowingly brought up manipulative and dishonest children, with Elaine being the opposite of her frigid mother and determined to use her sexual appeal to get everything she wants in life. It was a real page-turner for me and I went straight on to the sequel The Avenue Goes to War. These books would make a great TV series. (Jack’s just told me they have been made for TV, back in 1978 as People Like Us.)
The setting of the suburb is twelve miles from London Stone, (something which I must admit I had never even heard of before) a place that would nowadays be very definitely seen as London itself, so far and wide has London crept.