Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves
The Last Word Review
I am under no doubts that 2016 will go down as one those literary classic years that we will look back with many fond memories of books read and new authors discovered. I have read so many outstanding books through this year and I am struggling to select my book of the year. No comes along another, a stunningly beautifully written debut novel by Virginia Reeves with Work Like Any Other.
The novel is set in the rural heartland of Alabama during the 1920’s and Roscoe Martin has had to surrender his work as his wife whom he loves dearly has now taken over her father’s farm, to Roscoe this is bad news as he does not like the idea of a life in farming and this causes some friction and resentment with his wife Marie. It becomes clear that Roscoe would rather leave the tending of the fields to the land manager Wilson.
Times are changing and electricity is coming and to Roscoe this thing of power could be the saviour of not just the farm but his now failing marriage, he has the idea of bringing some of the ‘wasted’ electricity to the farm but this is stealing and is not something you can return at a later date. What could be so wrong as taking a little power and diverting to the farm, nothing could go wrong.
Well it does it go for Roscoe and Wilson and there is a severe price to pay for both in differing ways. For Roscoe he now loses everything including his beloved family. Now incarcerated in Kilby Prison and doing hard time life will be harsh and for Wilson he too was sent to Kilby Prison as he was seen as an accomplice to Roscoe but there is a difference between them both Wilson is black and his hard time will be more severe he will be forced into what was in those days as ‘forced slave labour.’
This is historical fiction at its finest it is raw and told in a way that makes you taste the dust of the farmland and the crackle of the electricity and it runs through the power lines it is both haunting and brutal in its description of life in prison. The characters are superb in the way they have been designed from Marie on her resentment of to her husband to Roscoe and how he adapts to his incarceration but something about Roscoe wanted me to shake him he comes across as passive and accepts to easily the punishment there is little fight in the man when it becomes clear that it is not only his freedom that he has lost.
One felt more for Wilson being black and his punishment to severe yet he is man of stature and Wisdom. I wished more for Wilson. Work Like Any Other is mighty fine debut novel a real ‘slow burner’ but delivers on a purely historical perspective looking at 1920’s Alabama and the injustices of the time as well as prison life. This is a story that is compelling and well-structured at times complex but overall this is an exceptional novel and Virginia Reeves is a new writer to keep an eye on for the future.
Work Like Any Other has recently been Longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize. The announcement of the Shortlist will be made on 13 September with the book being announced on 25 October.
Thank you to Scribner UK for a review copy.
Work Like Any Other written by Virginia Reeves and published by Scribner UK and is available through all Waterstones branches and all good bookshops.