Reviews|

All The Beggars Riding by Lucy Caldwell

27th Jan 2014

★★★★★
All the Beggars Riding
The title of Caldwell's third novel is based on an old Yorkshire saying, "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride." Lara Moorhouse, the novel’s main character, has picked up this rather wistful sentiment from her late mother, Jane...

As the story begins, Jane has recently died, while Lara, a care worker in her late thirties living in London, has recently split from her boyfriend. Alone and embittered, Lara’s greatest pleasure derives from taking an elderly patient, Mr Rawalpindi, to a creative writing class each week.

After watching a television documentary about the survivors of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, Lara revisits the trauma of her own past. As a twelve year-old, she discovered that her father, Patrick Connolly – a plastic surgeon, in the midst of the Irish “Troubles”– was living a double life, with another family in Belfast. Just a few months later, Lara was dealt another cruel blow when Patrick died in a helicopter crash. Her family’s secret was then exposed, and her mother left out in the cold.

“You have this thing against fiction,” Lara’s tutor remarks, as she tries to write her life story. “But actually, everything we write is a kind of story.” Mr Rawalpindi adds, “I think you should write your story as fiction. Your mother’s story.”

Initially, Lara is held back by anger – at her father’s deception, and her mother’s complicity. By creating her own narrative, using memory and imagination, she gains a clearer picture of their affair.

All the Beggars Riding includes subtle literary allusions. Jane Moorhouse is named after the heroine of fellow Yorkshirewoman Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, Jane Eyre; a story to which her own fate seems tied.All the Beggars Riding includes subtle literary allusions. Jane Moorhouse is named after the heroine of fellow Yorkshirewoman Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, Jane Eyre; a story to which her own fate seems tied.

Like Jane Eyre, she is an ordinary, ‘plain Jane’; and she, too, falls for an older man with a dark secret. This latter-day Jane is also a reader of Sylvia Plath’s Winter Trees, while another character admires Louis MacNeice, an Irish-born poet who migrated to London.

In the novel’s later chapters, Lara attempts to rebuild her life. For the first time since childhood, she revisits Belfast and finds it transformed. “It was the sort of evening that felt as if anything could happen, or perhaps already had,” she reflects.

“When there is an alignment between all of the parallel worlds spiralling with every instant, every decision, away from this one, so that all the people you could have been and all the choices you could have made, all of them, for a moment, touch.”

Lucy Caldwell has been compared to author Maggie O’Farrell for her emotional intensity. Other critics have noted that All the Beggars Riding, which explores the possibilities of writing, may have been inspired by Caldwell’s own experience of teaching. Although at times bleak, her novel is anchored by its fiercely honest narrator.