The Clothes on Their Backs

The Clothes on Their Backs

About the Book:

In a red brick mansion block off the Marylebone Road, Vivien, a sensitive, bookish girl grows up sealed off from both past and present by her timid refugee parents. Then one morning a glamorous uncle appears, dressed in a mohair suit, with a diamond watch on his wrist and a girl in a leopard-skin hat on his arm. Why is Uncle Sándor so violently unwelcome in her parents’ home?

This is a novel about survival – both banal and heroic – and a young woman who discovers the complications, even betrayals, that inevitably accompany the fierce desire to live.

Set against the backdrop of a London from the 1950s to the present day, The Clothes on Their Backs is a wise and tender novel about the clothes we choose to wear, the personalities we dress ourselves in, and about how they define us all.

Click Here to Read an Extract


Published by Virago
Paperback | ISBN: 9781844085422 | RRP: £7.99

Published by Scribner
Hardback | ISBN: 9781439143193 | RRP: $27.50

Where to buy this title: | Book Depository | | Waterstone’s | WHSmith


‘Gripping and written with keen understatement, it manages to be a domestic coming-of-age story even as it takes in the tumultuous sweep of the 20th Century…It is, in other words, that rare thing, a novel of big ideas that never forgets to tell a story. Any frocks and bolero jackets you happen to come upon along the way are just the icing on the cake.’
The Evening Standard

‘Like money, clothes have real, symbolic and psychological value. Linda Grant understands these dimensions implicitly. Stitched beautifully into the fabric of her latest novel is an acute understanding of the role clothes play in reflecting identity and self-worth…Grant’s own particular beam reveals the way we acquire our sense of self from what gets reflected back to us, either in the mirror or in our relationships with others. She is at home writing about the thrilling ripple of a skirt as she is charting social tensions.’
The Sunday Telegraph

‘We are what we wear because clothes reveal our personalities, but as Grant makes clear as she guides us through a dizzying ethical maze, they also conceal them…in this meticulously textured and complex novel, beneath Grant’s surface dressing, what she is talking about is more than skin deep.’
The Times

‘Such is the richness of Grant’s plotting that the story encapsulates many untold narratives…while the significance of other narrative threads can sometimes seem strangely opaque. But that is really the central theme of the novel – that life itself is opaque. You try to analyse it as best you can, but sometimes it is impossible to see past the surface of things.’
The Sunday Times

‘There is nothing lightweight about its themes and yet it so artfully constructed that you barely feel you’re reading it at all, so fluid and addictive is the plot. But like all the best books, the serious ideas it raises stay with you for a long time afterwards … This is a wonderful, tightly written novel that charts one woman’s emotional life while weaving in politics, history and morality…This novel is above all a quiet masterclass in the perils of hypocrisy. No man is all good or all bad. And a decent suit can make you overlook a lot.’
The Observer

‘This is a terrific novel, bursting with life and vivid characters.’
The Mail on Sunday

‘Richly imagined … her novel is at once a beautifully detailed character study, a poignant family history and a richly evocative portrait of the late 1970s … It is a joy to welcome such a vibrant and thought-provoking book.’
The Independent

‘Vivid, enjoyable and consistently unexpected … Sandor’s mix of the endearing and the repellent takes on a life beyond that of an absorbing and unexpectedly ambitious story.’
The Telegraph

The Clothes on Their Backs tells the story of Vivien Kovaks, the daughter of Hungarian refugees who came to London just before World War II. Her parents live a hermetic life, unwilling to let anything undo the shaky foundations of their lives. When her Uncle Sandor comes by when she’s a girl, dressed nattily in a blue mohair suit with a stylish watch and a beautiful woman on his arm, her father bans him from the house. Sandor has made his fortune as a slum landlord to immigrants, and he’s sent to jail for a while. As Vivien enters into adulthood, she has trouble finding her place in English society, trying different fashions as she experiments with finding her identity. When she helps Uncle Sandor write his memoirs about his experiences during the war, she finds the strength in his stories helps her forge her own place in life.’