Book reviews

The Six Loves of Billy Bins is the first novel by Richard Lumsden.

Billy Bins was born with the twentieth century in London. He began telling his story the age of 117 for his son Archie, from the nursing home he had lived in for decades. He wanted Archie to know the kind of man he was so included the story of each of the people he had loved during his life. Billy also hoped that telling his story would help him remember what falling in love felt like.

Billy left home at fifteen to join the army during WW1 and somehow survived being shot out of a reconnaissance balloon. Recovering in England, Billy had his fortune told which was when he learned he would have five loves throughout his life.

Each of these loves made Billy the person he became. Sometimes he made really stupid choices, even though he had a good sense of right and wrong, but as a result of his poorer decisions some of his life experiences were terrible.

Billy tells his story in a way that made me wonder if he fully understood what was happening around him. Due to his great age he was sometimes muddled and tired, and sometimes his memory failed in ways that seemingly protected him from knowing things he didn’t want to remember. I also wondered if Billy was on the autism spectrum as he seemed to lack understanding about what made a personal relationship, although this element of his character could also have been because he was a man from a different era. Either way, an autistic person from Billy’s time would not have been diagnosed other than being recognised amongst his community as being ‘different’.

Some of Billy’s loves were so brief and tragic that I felt very terribly sad for him, but his is a hopeful character, which explains why one of the reviewers on the front cover of the book calls this story “Heart-breaking” while another describes it as “Uplifting.”

The Six Loves of Billy Bins is gentle, funny and sad, although it is not sentimental and does not wallow in any way. I enjoyed watching the twentieth century go past in the background of Billy’s story.

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