My mum has been telling me for years to read Tales of the City. When I finally got round to it last year, I loved it just as much as she had promised!
The ‘city’ in Maupin’s tales is San Francisco, where we dip into the lives of a number of characters, starting with the naive Mary Ann Singleton. Her eight day holiday turns into her new life when she quits her job in Cleveland and finds herself an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane. It sounds like a dream come true, but as is often the case, this new and exciting life in the vibrant city is not all it’s cracked up to be.
The book was originally serialised for a local newspaper, so the short ‘chapters’ are often only a couple of pages or less. It’s extremely readable – you can read it in small chunks little and often or, like me, accidentally race through it without realising! There’s no time to get bored – with all of the mini dramas, twists and cliffhangers scattered about, you’re turning the last page before you know it, desperate to get stuck into the next in the series.
Tales of the City is not filled with long descriptions but is so full of the atmosphere of the city that reading it is like stepping into 1970’s San Francisco. Although I live what feels like a world away from Maupin’s city, it’s strangely familiar, but perhaps that’s because of the well-rounded characters. They are such a mixed bunch with all sorts of things going on, it’s almost impossible not to empathise with at least one of them. A couple of my favourites also live at 28 Barbary Lane; the copywriter Mona Ramsey, who storms out of a meeting and quits over a sexist advert and the beloved Michael Tolliver, a flamboyantly gay man looking for love. All of the characters are explored from different angles and have their own storylines which often briefly connect with other’s, a little like a soap-opera. We read about their hopes and dreams and discover their flaws.
Without a doubt, my very favourite character is the bohemian landlady Mrs Madrigal, who welcomes new tenants with a spliff of homegrown marijuana. She’s a joy to read, and I imagine Maupin had loads of fun creating her character. She’s also surrounded by mystery, especially when we learn that the strange and secretive tenant in the roof apartment is trying to discover more about her life. I feel as though there is a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to Mrs Madrigal…
I would love nothing more than to take up residence at 28 Barbary Lane, sit back and watch all of the interlaced dramas unfold. I can’t wait to get my hands on More Tales of the City!
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