The premise is attractive - young naive girl moves out of home into a boarding house in the Cross, where she meets a cast of very interesting people. In fact the supporting characters were all much more interesting than the narrator. . Her landlady, Mrs Delvecchio Schwartz, is a fortune teller with a large clientele from the blue-rinse set; she has a daughter, Angel, who never speaks but scribbles on the walls incessantly. We're led to believe - or rather, we're told, that Harriet fell in love with this child immediately, although all we ever see is that Harriet babysits Angel once a week for a couple of hours while the mother spends time with her current lover. It comes as a real surprise, after the landlady dies, to learn that Harriet is prepared to give up her career in order to adopt Angel if she can, because the relationship really didn't seem that close.
McCullough touches on social issues of the time; we're repeated told that Harriet earns a mans' wage as an Xray technician, there's mention of a lesbian being badly raped and beaten by police at the instigation of her disgusted father, and gays just aren't widely accpeted - except by Harriet, of course, who having grown up in a nice suburban middle class family of course has no prejudices at all. She's also shed her middle-class mores for a more freewheeling attitude to sex and love. However one constantly feels like the author is on her soapbox about culture and attitudes, and is trying far too hard to capture the feel of the times. For example all of the characters don't just drink brandy, they drink threestar hospital brandy, and one never pours it into a glass but rather into a Kraft cheese glass. Seriously the author felt the need to name the brandy and glasses every.single.time.
And the ending - can you say "trite"? Tying up all the loose ends so nicely! Of course it turns out that the landlady was rich, and had left everything to Harriet who it turns out is a long-lost relative.
It's books like this that send me back to fanfic.