Cover image for The report : a novel
The report : a novel
Publication Information:
Minneapolis, Minn. : Graywolf Press, c2010.
Physical Description:
240 p. ; 21 cm.
London, 1943 : Tube stations across London have been converted into bomb shelters. Night after night, while sirens wail in Bethnal Green, immigrants and East Enders alike sleep on the tracks and wait. But on March 3, as the crowd hurries down the staircase, something goes wrong, and 173 adults and children lose their lives in a deadly crush. When the devastated neighborhood demands an inquiry, the job falls to the young magistrate Laurence Dunne.


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A stunning first novel that is an evocative reimagining of a World War II civilian disaster

On a March night in 1943, on the steps of a London Tube station, 173 people die in a crowd seeking shelter from what seemed to be another air raid. When the devastated neighborhood demands an inquiry, the job falls to magistrate Laurence Dunne.

In this beautifully crafted novel, Jessica Francis Kane paints a vivid portrait of London at war. As Dunne investigates, he finds the truth to be precarious, even damaging. When he is forced to reflect on his report several decades later, he must consider whether the course he chose was the right one. The Report is a provocative commentary on the way all tragedies are remembered and endured.

Author Notes

Jessica Francis Kane is the author of the story collection Bending Heaven . Her stories have been broadcast on BBC radio and have appeared in a many publications, including Virginia Quarterly Review , McSweeney's , the Missouri Review , and Michigan Quarterly Review . Her essays and humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Morning, where she is a contributing writer. She lives in New York with her husband and their two children.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kane (Bending Heaven) explores the fallout from a catastrophe that occurred in war-weary 1943 London to mixed results; the historical material and characters are wonderful, but the plot is deeply contrived. The newly built Bethnal Green tube station was serving as an air-raid shelter when 173 people suffocated to death in a mystifying pile-up in a stairwell. As rumors swell about possible causes, magistrate Laurence Dunne is assigned to investigate. Kane skillfully reimagines the empathetic Dunne as he interprets the confessions and accusations of a community crushed by loss and guilt. In a linked narrative set in 1973, Paul, who was orphaned in the tragedy, tries to persuade Dunne to be interviewed as part of a documentary he's directing. Meticulous historical detail and vivid descriptions of hunkered-down and rationed East Enders add a marvelous texture, but Kane runs into trouble by trying to establish that the tangle of noble and selfish intentions that contributed to the calamity can't be unknotted, while simultaneously tugging on a stubborn thread that will, for the sake of plot, prove the opposite. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Guardian Review

In the cold spring of March 1943 a stampede to Bethnal Green station's underground shelter during an air-raid warning led to a crush at the entrance hall and the deaths of 173 people, the worst civilian disaster of the second world war. Kane's composed yet rawly emotional fictionalised account focuses on the initial reluctance of a morale-obsessed government to hold an official inquiry, overturned by protest from the war-weary families of victims of the catastrophe. One woman, Ada, lost her younger child, Emma; 30 years later the grim anniversary is remembered by Tilly, the surviving daughter, and Paul, a documentary film maker eager to interview retired Laurence Dunne, the local magistrate who headed the eventual investigation. An East End ravaged by the blitz and uneasy with the influx of refugees is powerfully recreated; the revelations thrown up by retrospective sifting through the facts seem more arbitrary. - Catherine Taylor In the cold spring of March 1943 a stampede to Bethnal Green station's underground shelter during an air-raid warning led to a crush at the entrance hall and the deaths of 173 people, the worst civilian disaster of the second world war. - Catherine Taylor.

Kirkus Review

Kane reimagines a real-life civilian tragedy during World War II, when 173 people, fleeing an apparent air raid, were crushed to death in a stairwell in a newly built Tube station in London.The Bethnal Green tragedy of March 3, 1943, is all the more terrible and poignant because no bombs fell over London that evening. And bizarrely, every death was by asphyxiation; only one victima survivorsuffered a broken bone. Kane, author of the story collection Bending Heaven (2002), moves deftly among perspectives on the catastrophe: We eavesdrop on war-battered townsfolk, the tardy policeman, the overburdened priest, the devastated shelter-chief who feels responsible.Kane's command of period detail is marvelous. She focuses on magistrate Laurence Dunne, appointed to conduct an investigation and produce a report that will be both thorough and innocuous, that will exploreand explain the tragedy while alsoassuaging fears and aiding "morale...the altar on which reason was daily sacrificed." Finding someone to blamewhether it's Jewish refugees, a war-weary mother chasing two young daughters, neighborhood boys with firecrackers, the government or malfeasant officialsis a psychological necessity, and everyone is looking for someone on whom to pin responsibility. Kane adroitly weaves together various theories and gives a sense of the grim succor that assigning blame can provide grief-stricken citizens. Unfortunately,the book is hampered by a contrived framework30 years later, an orphan of the Bethnal Green tragedyinterviews Dunne for a documentarythat undermines the eloquent take onmoral intricacy and ambiguity.Some plot problems aside, a deft, vivid first novel.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Kane's first novel (after the short story collection Bending Heaven) revolves around the real-life Bethnal Green tube station disaster that occurred in London during World War II and claimed the lives of 173 people-the largest civilian accident of the war in Britain on a night when no bombs were dropped on the city. Trying to make sense of how so many people could die of asphyxiation on a stairway shelter, Kane creates a story whose characters are themselves either part of the accident or were involved in making follow-up inquiries. Laurence (Laurie) Dunn is the magistrate appointed to investigate and write the accident report within a short time of its occurrence. After 30 years, Paul Barber, a young filmmaker making a subsequent documentary about the tragedy, tracks down Laurie to interview him. Others who figure prominently are Ada Barber and her daughter, Tillie, two survivors of the accident. Weaving together the socioeconomic factors of London's East End, the weariness of war and refugee displacement, and the personalities of the various locals, this work of historical fiction implies that in times of peril there are sometimes no safe havens. Verdict Kane keeps the reader consistently interested as fact and speculation evocatively intertwine. Highly recommended.-M. Neville, Trenton P.L., NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.