Book: The 392
Author: Ashley Hickson-Lovence
Publisher: OWN IT! London
Buy the bookhereReview by Sophie Jai
“Finally, just in time before I get vex, I can see the bus’s little face at last. The 392. It’s turning the corner so slowly like it’s too shy to meet all of us for the first time…”
Those of us familiar with that “shy” bus face that sneaks around the corner when you are at the point of exasperation will recognise the characters who travel on The 392, a story of a London bus that weaves its way from Hoxton to Highbury while its passengers grow increasingly suspicious of the brown man with a rucksack.
Rather than keeping with the tradition of having a central protagonist, the story is told from the first-person perspective of nine characters – a colourful East London cast of delinquent schoolkids alongside the homeless, the troubled, the perverted, the elderly and the ambitious – who all have personal problems.
We ride with them on a journey that takes in the microcosm of East London, and discover teenagers dealing with not-so-teenage problems, seemingly “normal” people with no sense of public boundaries and the lonely who feel even lonelier in a crowd. As the bus chugs on, the suspicion that the brown man with the rucksack might be a terrorist grows, and a bigger question presents itself to each character: will today be the day I die?
The most important character author Ashley Hickson-Lovence has effortlessly crafted in his debut novel isn’t one of the living, breathing characters but the bus itself. As it moves through Hoxton to Highbury, it reveals a new world of gentrification and diversity, and allow us to dive into each character’s thoughts. We question the world we see with them out of the windows, and wonder how people’s values, identity and belonging change in each area.
A Hackney-native, Hickson-Lovence paints a fresh, modern and accurate portrait of East London. His writing and dialogue are so detailed that fellow Hackney folk will smile to themselves with knowing pride: “She wears a vintage Adidas t-shirt bought from Beyond Retro in Stoke Newington, gets a small tattoo of a ballerina on the underside of her arm…” and “Not much passenger turnover between Hoxton and Dalston and Dalston and Highbury, the passengers on now are here for the long run.”
Though a literary novel, the East London slang and references to youth pop culture will resonate with a range of readers – from teenagers to young adults.
The 392 is a wonderfully short read, revealing the many lives of East Londoners and its ever-changing panorama.