"Common Cause" is Kate Hunter's sequel to the excellent "The Caseroom". Set in 1915, it follows Iza Orr and a cast of co-workers, family and others whose lives are shaped by the Edinburgh print industry. To those who have read "The Caseroom", Iza's back story will be familiar, but not having done so will not diminish the enjoyment to be had from reading "Common Cause" as a stand alone novel. The reader is given enough of the background to quickly come up to speed with the family and work dynamics.
Iza is now a grown woman with a husband and children. Her early life and carefree youth is behind her and she stands at a point in her life where she seems constantly to be questioning both her personal and political views. Whilst the story unfolds at a time of momentous events and divided loyalties, the role of the workplace and workers rights is uppermost. Iza is of a rare breed. She is a compositor, a type-setter, in a role that many see ill-fitting for a woman. She faces daily victimisation from her co-workers, but having once been dismissed from her work and having fought to be reinstated, she is ever more determined to continue in the job she has loved since she first set foot in the caseroom as a 13-year-old apprentice. When a historic wartime lockout quickly follows, Iza finds herself trying to rationalise her beliefs as she copes with unexpected complexities surrounding family tragedy, personal politics, patriotism and women's suffrage.
The joy to be had in Kate Hunter's writing is in the beautifully crafted narrative. The reader is transported back to the Edinburgh of 1915 and the pen picture she paints of the city and its socially divided districts, its housing, the daily rituals of its residents and the background noise of people going about their daily lives and work is exquisite. If you know the city, it is possible to walk the streets with Iza and feel yourself taken to a different time and another life lived out in an otherwise familiar setting. The social divisions between districts brings into sharp focus the differing lives, attitudes and aspirations of Edinburgh's wartime residents. Most poignant is the description of the family life of the Orrs and of the interdependency of the generations. Mother, Vi Ross, is passed between her children, setting up home who whoever will have her at a particular time. She spends time living with Iza and husband John, but then moves to live with her daughter Violet when John goes to war and Iza's fortunes change. Violet has married well and lives well, but the insight we get into Vi's time with her reveals a troubled life below the polish and veneer of outward success. Vi's relationship with her sons and her obvious favouritism of Jack, her youngest, causes tensions between the siblings, but the general picture is one of a strong familial bond in a traditional working class family.
"Common Cause" is a fascinating read. It has many strands and the reader is carried along wondering which of a number of possible outcomes will emerge at the end of the book. For this reader, it was not the one she hoped for, but that's perhaps because she is a hopeless romantic!