All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle is a book about loneliness, loss, and perseverance.
Hubert Bird, an 84 year old Jamaican immigrant, and the lead character of the story, hides his loneliness from his daughter Rose’s weekly phone calls by telling her all about his busy (faked) social life. However this intricate fabricated life begins to fall apart when Hubert meets his new neighbour Ashleigh and her daughter Layla, and reality steps in…
Our group found the depiction of social isolation leading to depression both moving, hard hitting and sadly realistic.
We liked the ‘then and now’ love story of Hubert and his wife Joyce, although this did at times lead to a little confusion as to where we were in the timeline of the story. Seeing the perspective of the Windrush generation was interesting, although the depictions of the racism and discrimination that people faced both then and now made for some uncomfortable reading.
Hubert comes across as a rather mercurial character – acting differently with different groups of people (Gus – Hubert’s friend from Jamaica, Joyce – Hubert’s wife, Ashleigh – Hubert’s neighbour, Jan – a fellow campaigner and potential love interest, Emil – courier and baker extraordinaire). We were left unsure how much this could be attributed to things that had happened to him, and how much was just due to his own personality. Ashleigh is a bright, effervescent, determined, and very positive person, who moved to Bromley to create a new life for her and her daughter. Both characters suffer from loneliness which emphasises that it isn’t just an age-related problem – and creates the motivation for the campaign.
No spoilers – as several of our group haven’t finished reading it yet but we can say that most readers were frustrated by a sudden plot twist – although we agreed that it did prevent the story from being too comfortable.
We’d recommend All the Lonely People, but would add a caveat that it might not go quite where you expect!