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Authors: Virginie Pithon, Wei Yun Lim, Giulia Sandelewski, Nima Mudey, Nussaibah Raja, Simona Corcoz, Roseanna Cooke, Fiona Anderson, Hesham Zakai, and Gina Lawrence

Publisher: KCL Creative Writing Society (University of London)

ISBN-10: 144772819X: ISBN-13: 978-1447728191

Just after reading a Charles Todd mystery, I was offered the challenge of reviewing Fostering Guilt by the KCL Creative Writing Society, King’s College London (University of London). Charles Todd is a mother and son writing team with individual careers that make them experts on history and danger. KCL is a writing group. The two “authors” are similar fundamentally in that they probe psychological depths to explore individual and societal values. They differ technically because one can never tell where Charles Todd leaves off and Caroline Todd takes over, while KCL has approached their work in an orderly way, giving each contributor a chance to showcase his or her talents by developing a single character. One might think this interferes with the tension and plot. It does not. This novel, like the Todds’, is slow-paced, drawing the reader into the dark memories of the characters.

Fostering Guilt reveals the states of mind of former inmates of St. Aloysius’ Orphanage in London. When the original 1860’s building was consumed by fire in 1990, the children were farmed out to foster homes or transferred to sister institutions. Others were presumed lost. Some, we are told, took the opportunity to escape. In 2010, a new building opens and the young adults introduced here all plan to attend a reunion.

The conception is brilliant. It is worth noting that King’s College (Strand Campus) is in Bloomsbury, where London’s first foundling hospital was erected in 1745, Handel and Hogarth becoming patrons. This long-obsolete institution spawned the largest children’s charity in England, Coram’s Fields. As for the corruption exposed in this fiction, it barely surmounts the corruption that fed the real foundlings’ home during one period when vagrants were paid to “pick up” children in the countryside to be taken into care.

Still, it is not history, but the anytime terror of having to reinvent oneself at age 4, 11 or 14 that resonates throughout this novel’s parts.

Compared with short stories that connect and support one another in an author’s larger portrait of human suffering, this group’s accomplishment feels more like a performance, each author taking on a role, having collaborated on the plot. While at times I thought the writing immature or overworked, I reminded myself that the writing was meant to reflect the characters, some indeed immature, some ego-maniacal, all floundering for self-acceptance. Whether or not those who found happy homes were “saved” remains doubtful to the very end.

If there is anything I can say I did not enjoy in the “read,” it’s that it was relentlessly disturbing, having come from the minds of writers I presume to be young. But whose fault is that? We have given our next generation of leaders and managers no more than a clouded future and structural disarray.

The joy in reading Fostering Guilt is that it rewarded my Anglophile anticipation of clever language play and precision. That means this book is not for readers looking for a quick escape. Devotees of the popular genres may be too impatient to match wits with authors who have been trained in “the greats” in literature. They may be puzzled by iconic images to define their character’s life that do not easily cross the Atlantic, such as the “oyster card” of London Transport. They may miss satire and sarcasm in clever dialogue. For this reason, I would urge the KCL Creative Writing Society to promote their work as serious contemporary literature. Alternatively, they might target a seat between Charles Todd and Ruth Rendell, among other mystery masters who employ internal monologue to build suspense. I think, too, of Elizabeth George’s brave and compelling What Happened Before He Shot Her, another lesson in the failures of social welfare.

Watch for these collaborators in the next few years. The Charles Todd website tells us: “Writing together is a challenge, and both [mother and son] enjoy giving the other a hard time. . . Charles crashes Caroline’s computer, and Caroline crashes his parties. Will they survive to write more novels together?”

These students could go on to establish The No. 1 British Writing Society (to replace mind-numbing “thrillers”).

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