Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.

Once Upon a Time in England

A Novel

by Helen Walsh

“The novel courses with life, and the characters are rendered in visceral totality—there isn’t a putrid smell, quickening of heart, or tingle in the loins that isn’t laid bare.” —Emma Hamilton, Bust Magazine

  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 368
  • Publication Date September 20, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8476-7179-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

Helen Walsh’s searing debut novel, Brass, marked the emergence of an exciting young talent. With her new novel, Once Upon a Time in England, an unforgettable mixed-race family saga of secrets, shattered dreams, and compassion, Walsh establishes herself as a knowing storyteller with echoes of Monica Ali and Zadie Smith.

On the coldest night of 1975, Robbie Fitzgerald, a young man with a shock of red hair, is late, sprinting through the snowy streets of a working-class British town. With a Van Morrison meets Robert Johnson singing voice, the young crooner is on the verge of his big break—the legendary producer Dickie Vaughn is going to be in the house for his show. Both his own dreams and those of his young family are on the line, while on the other side of town, in a rough neighborhood, his son and young wife, Susheela, wait for him, which is all too often the case. And when Susheela falls victim to an outrageous bias crime, the balance of the lives of all four Fitzgeralds—Susheela, Robbie, their son, Vincent, and unborn daughter, Ellie, will reverberate with this snowy night’s incident.

Over thirteen years of struggle, aspiration, achievement, misunderstandings, near misses, and compromised or lost dreams, Helen Walsh plunges us into the lives and loves, indeed the fabric, of the Fitzgeralds. An absorbing story of the awkwardness of youth and the necessary acceptance and maturity that comes with age, Walsh has created a wondrous family saga that will remain with you long after the final page.

Tags Literary


“[Walsh] writes the local dialect with a native speaker’s fluency, and her vibrant language digs deep into her characters’ emotional and social terrain . . . [She] excels in describing the milieu of her characters—the visceral language Walsh uses to evoke their experiences is very much her strong suit . . . Her talent [is] for understanding and describing how societal ills can infect a family to its core.” —Marisa Silver, New York Times Book Review

“The writing achieves a sparkling grace . . . Once Upon a Time in England is a wonderful book. Sheila’s arc from basket-case helplessness to new self-sufficiency is lovely to behold . . . Although the story has a deep, upsetting beauty, a reason to read Once Upon a Time in England is because its tension is the world’s tension. It’s not so much a mirror—mirrors are clear—as it is a distressingly familiar tangle of identity.” —Laurel Maury, The Los Angeles Times

“Covering some of the well-traveled ground of recent Brit lit hits like Monica Ali’s Brick Lane and Andrea Levy’s Small Island, this heart-stirring family saga offers a view into the lives and struggles of new immigrants and their children. Recommended.” —Library Journal

“A gritty, satisfying depiction of a family falling apart.” —Baltimore City Paper

“The novel courses with life, and the characters are rendered in visceral totality—there isn’t a putrid smell, quickening of heart, or tingle in the loins that isn’t laid bare.” —Emma Hamilton, Bust Magazine

“[A] poignant novel . . . Walsh navigates this treacherous territory with sensitivity and insight, the fragile hopes and plans of a family in distress, lost to one another as they explore the geography of heartbreak.” —CurledUpWithaGoodBook.com


Behind the veils of smoke Vaughan’s eyes nettled with tears. Like the rest of the room, he was gone. Robbie Fitzgerald had him transfixed, utterly caught up in the ferocious beauty of his voice. He had never heard a voice so visceral and honest, so needy and hungry and splintered with pain. He didn’t think it possible to transform the jarring, maudlin wail of bluegrass into something so profound and sensual. That voice planted a hankering in his groin, ripping the skin from his flesh in one violent tug. And as the smoke screen lifted, Vaughan appraised the young flame-haired minstrel with mounting disbelief. He took in the flat boxer’s nose; the wild green eyes, the litter of scars that marked his face, and the fading shamrock inked between his thumb and his forefinger. He observed Robbie’s cheap cheesecloth shirt, his high-waisted pinstripe pants, and he wondered how this crude male could radiate such beauty.