Fiona Mozley explores London’s slums

If he hadn’t run away, the Burgundy snail would have ended up scalded, like its thousands of dead congeners to prop up the stomachs of tourists. For those who know how to observe them, the smallest details are sometimes the beginnings of a revolution. It is in the kitchens of a French brasserie, an institution in Soho, that the second novel by the Englishwoman Fiona Mozley opens, a millefeuille of characters, colors and sounds anchored in a popular district of London. Frequented by generations of artists and revelers, Soho has fallen prey to developers who, under the pretext of restoring order there, are evicting residents of old buildings to build apartments, restaurants or luxury boutiques.

That is, on the ground floor of the oldest building in the district, the restaurant Des Sables, renowned for its snails with parsley butter. On the roof, there is a prosperous clandestine garden maintained by two women, Precious and Tabitha, who love each other as much as they bicker. On the lower floor survives an old-fashioned brothel frequented by Robert Kerr, a former Scottish henchman for a mob boss. When Agatha Howard, last daughter of the said mobster and owner of the building, decides to evict the tenants, Precious and the other prostitutes enter into resistance.

Hear all points of view

In « Elmet », her first novel, Fiona Mozley recounted the struggle of two teenagers against expropriation in rural England devastated by unemployment and poverty. Apparently very different, this second book actually digs the same furrow, mixing a detective plot with the tradition of social literature inherited from Dickens. Through a multitude of characters – an actor of Sri Lankan origin, the son of a wealthy lawyer, a couple of drug addicts, an artists’ agent converted into real estate – she penetrates all strata of English society. . Without forgetting the underground passages, the cellars and the blind rooms where illegal workers live. A choral and democratic novel, « Last Night in Soho » makes all points of view heard without ever overhanging or posing a moral gaze on characters who express a diversity of sexualities, social and ethnic origins, more or less legal activities. . With Mona, a journalist admirer of Diane Arbus who photographs prostitutes, Fiona Mozley questions the role of the writer and the temptation of voyeurism, to which she never yields.

A precarious island in the heart of the anthill, the building rests on fragile foundations built on a ground that sometimes shakes. While the sling of prostitutes rumbles, Agatha Howard, the rich heiress flanked by an aristocratic Russian greyhound, fascinated by the lines of kings and the French Revolution, fears that her world will collapse. Would revolution be possible in the country of the monarchy?


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