In 1950s London, Jack Munday is trying to find lightning in the bottle that will get him to the top of the boxing world. A former boxer, Jack thinks he has found his man in Frank, a young Irish boy with a powerful left hook. Together, they start to make their way up through London’s seedy, dark rings to the big show. Slowly, Frank falls in love with Pearl, a young girl living with Jack, whose relationship to him slowly evolves throughout the story. Eventually, Frank decides that he no longer wants to fight and that he and Pearl will marry. Jack has to decide if he is willing to let it all go, or seek out one last victory with Frank in his corner.
Bullock’s London is the real winner in this book. It’s a gritty, dark world rebuilding from the Blitz, and the perfect place for Jack to explore the wreckage of his own life: his abusive father, the sudden death of his wife, and his lackluster boxing career. While this is a story about boxing, the ring is really a metaphorical place for Jack to go round for round with his past. In her story about redemption and hope, Bullock’s writing is as taut as the fighters in her ring. The pacing is slow at times, but it does draw to a satisfying conclusion. A good read for an interesting look at London before, during and after the war.
Review originally appeared in HNR May 2016: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-longest-fight/