Reviewing the reviews


Last updated at 17:50 09 October 2007

What did our critic think of Marina Lewycka's Two Caravans? Did the other critics agree? More importantly, do you?

Read Stephanie Cross's review, and a summary of some of the other critics' opinions, then tell us what you thought of Over. We are inviting 150 word critiques of each month's book club choice from our readers. The winner will receive £100 in National Book Tokens and will see their entry in print. Follow the link below to enter.


Daily Mail - Eithne Farry

Marina Lewycka's debut novel, A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian, whizzed up the bestseller charts, was translated into 29 languages and became a favourite with book clubs across the land, offering a broadly comic perspective on illegal immigration and the quest for citizenship.

Here, Lewycka focuses her attention on the exploitation of economic migrants, and her lively slapstick humour is darkened by her descriptions of the working conditions in the strawberry field of Kent, and the ugly world of battery chicken farms.

The characters in Two Caravans are a likeable bunch. Feisty and resourceful, they are searching for everyday things - love, financial security, friends, fun, good food and the odd drunken night out.

But the ordinary dreams of Emanuel from Malawi, Andriy and Irina from the Ukraine, and Tomasz from Poland are overshadowed by the nightmare world they find themselves in. Merciless employers, hideous housing, poor wages and despicable gang-masters conspire to dampen their optimism and endanger their lives.

Lewycka's heartfelt and funny novel packs as big a punch as any hard-hitting political polemic.


Capitalising on a bestselling debut is always tricky – Marina Lewycka was always going to have a hard act following A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian. It won prizes, it was translated into 29 languages, it has sold upwards of 800,000 copies and it has become a firm favourite of the reading groups.

As David Sexton wondered in the EVENING STANDARD, 'could she possibly repeat such success? She could. She will.' He was reassured that 'all the humour of the first book is here, notably the sexual mishaps and the linguistic muddles', but pointed out that this second novel had a more complex narrative.

Peter Kemp in THE SUNDAY TIMES was effusive with his praise for this 'immensely appealing new novel.' In his view, Two Caravans 'all but sings with zest for life, [and] could hardly be more engaging, shrewd and winningly perceptive about the waste inflicted by prejudice and injustice.'

Tibor Fisher can be a hard critic to please but in this case he, too, found much to admire. Writing in THE GUARDIAN, he commented that 'Lewycka's great talent is for comedy. Her closest precursor is Tom Sharpe; the satire and slapstick are very reminiscent of his best work.'

He was of the opinion that, unlike her debut, Two Caravans is not the sort of book to be longlisted for the Booker prize: 'it lacks the sort of elegant, show-stopping sentences you can find in Barnes, Byatt or McEwan. But frankly, when you're this entertaining, who cares?'

Anthony Gardner, writing in the MAIL ON SUNDAY was a little more cautious with his praise. 'Lewycka sometimes strays into whimsy,' he thought; although he went on to say that 'she does, however, vividly portray the ordeals of the new underclass' – and awarded the book 4 stars.

Sarah Vine in THE TIMES was less easily won over. 'Lewycka forfeited my sympathy fairly early by the irritating way in which she tries to extract humour from her ensemble of migrant workers by having them express themselves in broken, punning, English…The documentary detail is consistently undermined by the faux-innocent jauntiness of the narrative voices. It is as if Dispatches is being presented by one of the Cheeky Girls.'

But perhaps the last word should go to Jane Shilling in the SUNDAY TELEGRAPH who summed up her feelings thus: Lewycka 'writes with an effervescent melancholy, refreshing as a cool drink on a hot day… The combination of charm and savagery make Two Caravans a piquant and disturbing read - the fictional equivalent of chocolate laced with chilli.'

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