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S. J. Parris and Stephanie Merritt

Review < Back

What Was Promised – 'Tobias Hill's White Teeth'

Sunday 16th March 2014

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Tobias Hill is a writer who has never been easily classifiable. His work includes award-winning collections of poetry and short stories, a book for children, and five novels that nimbly dodge any attempt to fix him in a particular genre. From the dark gothic of Underground, through the rich historical detail of The Love of Stones and the futuristic tech-world of The Cryptographer, to 2009's The Hidden, a thriller that drew comparisons with John Fowles and Donna Tartt, each book seems to mark a new departure. What unites them is a wealth of research worn lightly, a sharp eye for the details that shape characters and, above all, a poet's flair for language.

What Was Promised, his fifth novel, is firmly rooted in his fascination with London's recent history. He takes as his epigraph a line of Emerson's: "Cities give us collision." This idea recurs throughout the book; in Hill's novel, these collisions can be literal or metaphorical, deliberate or coincidental, but each one alters a character's trajectory, sometimes with repercussions that are still felt decades later...

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