By reading Style magazine, I was training myself not to want things. It was going quite well. I had already found that I did not want a pair of Yves Saint Laurent mules, a chandelier made from plastic antlers, or a diamond-encrusted necklace in the shape of a pineapple. I was still working on not wanting a fitted farmhouse kitchen in warm wood.
Sylvia lives in a flat on a council estate with her not-quite-husband Obe and their two young children. She dreams of buying a house on a leafy street like the one she grew up in. If she closes her eyes, she can see it all so clearly: the stripped floorboards, the wisteria growing around the door…
It’s not ideal that she’s about to be made redundant, or that Obe, a playworker, is never going to earn more than the minimum wage. As sleep deprivation sets in, and the RnB downstairs gets ever louder, Sylvia’s life starts to unravel.
But when the estate is earmarked for redevelopment, the threat to her community gives Sylvia a renewed sense of purpose. With a bit of help from her activist sister, and her film-maker friend Frankie, she’s ready to take a stand for what she believes in.
It’s November – and we’re all in need of something uplifting to get us through these long cold winter nights. Well, look no further – I’ve found the perfect antidote to the winter blues…
On the Up is a heartwarming novel that looks into the heart of what makes us belong, asking us to remember the things that get us through the greyest days and connect us with the ones who matter.
If you love a warm and feel-good read, filled with memorable characters, On the Up by Alice O’Keeffe is a the perfect book for you. It changes the narrative around the idea of ‘there’s no such thing as society’ and whilst it doesn’t shy away from the harsher side of modern life – it reminds you that there’s far more good than bad in the world.
Sylvia is getting through life in a dreary council flat with her ‘intended’ Obe and their two children. She has fantasies about a life beyond the confines of the council estate with its noisy neighbours and overturned bins and moving her family to a suburban idyll – like the house that she herself grew up in.
Although this is her dream, Sylvia is a realist and knows fine well that – short of a miracle – this pipe dream is set to remain just that. Money doesn’t grow on trees and it’s a hard enough struggle managing things as they are, never mind upgrading their life and turning the dream into a reality. Sylvia’s job situation is precarious at best and Obe’s salary is unlikely to rise much, working with children.
Everything starts to change for Sylvia when the estate is earmarked for redevelopment and this sudden threat to her community shakes things up and gives her the feeling that things perhaps don’t have to stay as they are forever and her actions could lead to positive change. Sylvia and her film maker friend, Frankie join forces to ensure that the people’s voices are heard and they don’t have to put up with things if they join together and work towards a common goal.
This book reminded me so much of one of my favourite contemporary reads, The Lido, and I was rooting for Sylvia in exactly the same way! The characters in this heartwarming read join forces ready to fight for their community and Sylvia rethinks her attitude to the estate that she had previously been so desperate to escape from. It feels empowering to experience people power along with these characters and you really will be rooting for them as you immerse yourself in this wonderful book.
I loved how realistic this novel feels and love the way that Alice O’Keeffe brought her diverse characters to life and made them feel like friends as you drew to the end of their tale. Finding her community who have been there all along is a real voyage of discovery for Sylvia and the warm and witty characterisation will leave you unsure whether to laugh or cry at times.
On the Up is a triumph of people rising above circumstances and profit. It allows you to believe that there is still pockets of real community out there if you know where to look and reminds us that we don’t often understand the good things about places we live in until something threatens to change them or take them from us. I enjoyed this book in Rhodes this autumn and could not put it down. I totally recommend it and can’t wait to hear what other bloggers think about it too.
Buy yourself a copy here and enjoy reading about Sylvia’s adventures for yourself
Writer On The Shelf
Alice O’Keeffe is a freelance writer and journalist. She was deputy editor of the Guardian’s Saturday Review section, and writes book reviews, interviews and features for the Guardian, Observer and New Statesman.
She has been a speechwriter at the Department for Education and literary programmer at the Brighton Festival. Alice lives in Brighton with her husband and two children.