A miner, Sofka & Sarah and a National Coal board truck and driver outside Bolsover colliery in 1974.
Putney is one of the urban-suburban villages of South-West London, south of the river and just next door to Wimbledon, where I was born and brought up. It is also the title of a new novel by an old friend and accomplished writer, Sofka Zinovieff, who, as her name suggests, has some Russian in her.
Putney becomes a metonym for childhood, first love, friendship and the healing power of making art. It’s more complicated than that, though, as thirteen-year old Daphne, the main protagonist, is raped by Ralph, the thirty-year-old composer friend of Edmund, her writer father, so questions of underage sex, consent and parental protection also loom large. Literary names are clues, so let’s remember that in Greek mythology, Daphne was pursued by Apollo, who was smitten with her beauty. To escape his clutches, she pleaded with her river-god father, who turned her into a laurel bush
Daphne is a beautiful wild child, footloose and fancy-free, the daughter of freedom and adventure, but also an allegorical figure. Reading Sofka’s evocation of childhood, the discovery of passionate love, the comfort of friendship and the desire to take control of a life at its outset, flooded me with memories of that time and that place. Not so much Bildungsroman or roman à clef, this novel worked for me as a Proustian madeleine. Sofka weaves a marvellous mnemonic warp and weft of the 1970s fabric of South West London.
Putney the novel is a great read and prompted me to write a long essay, as it brought back memories of growing up in that part of the world in the 1970s. Rather than publish it in full here, I have posted two versions online: UK here and US here.