The unlikely heroine of Mave Fellowes’s Chaplin & Company (Cape, £16.99) is a highly-strung, posh-speaking, buttoned-up 18-year-old with the unhelpful name Odeline Milk. Utterly friendless, she dislikes both humans and animals, but she has one huge, far-reaching private passion. She wants to be a mime artist — like the great Marcel Marceau. To launch her career, she has sold her mother’s house in Sussex and bought a scruffy old canal boat called Chaplin & Company, currently moored in Little Venice.
In the flashbacks that follow, we learn about Odeline’s miserable childhood — albeit lit up by a few eureka moments — along with the history of her new floating home and the past lives of her immediate neighbours on the canal. The story gets darker and dirtier. Like a scene from ITV’s Long Lost Families, Odeline eventually contacts the father she has never met but, in this case, the old bastard only wants to get money off her — and shag his current girlfriend.
Then comes the long-awaited change of heart. Not only does Odeline chuck her beloved prop box into the canal, she also decides to spend every penny of her inheritance preventing the illegal immigrant who runs the local café from being deported home to her war-torn country.
This shimmering, glinting examination of cruelty and kindness in the heart of London’s liquid underbelly ends encouragingly with a party on board our once robotic heroine’s revamped home — the first she has ever given.
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