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Unholy Business by Nora West

Unholy Business follows the story of Alice and her upper-middle-class family, and it opens in England in 1963. Alice is finishing off her final years at boarding school. Meanwhile, her mother, Sylvia, is drinking in her bedroom as her husband, Quentin, embarks on another affair, this time with a young secretary. But Quentin is full of grand plans to expand his poultry business to Europe, so the family set off on a business trip to Rome that will have dramatic ramifications for all of them.

It turns out this is a fictionalised account of a real story that the author is recreating some sixty years later, and it is all the more engaging for this personal connection. It captures the crippling effect of boarding schools maintaining class and gender divisions and the constraints placed on young women in the 1960s. It also captures the glamour of 1960s Italy and a scandal in the Vatican, which will impact Alice and her father, in particular.

Unholy Business is told from different points of view, and the characters are well-formed, and they leap from the page. Alice is a particularly likeable young lady, and as a reader, you want to cheer her on with her endeavours.

I particularly liked the photographs and other period details that are included in the book.

What an engaging, cheerful, utterly absorbing read! Unholy Business is an upbeat but insightful novel that transports the reader to 1960s England, with a headstrong schoolgirl navigating the restraints of a constricted ‘privileged’ upbringing, with unexpected events thrown her way that change the course of her life.

Reviewer: Karen McMillan


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