Friday, 15 October 2021

You've obviously forgotten what it's like

Black Swan Green In Black Swan Green David Mitchell has brilliantly recreated the struggles of a teenage boy who's trying to make sense of the world. It's narrated by the thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor in thirteen chapters, each representing a month in his life from January 1982 to January 1983.

Jason has plenty of problems and several secrets.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Like visiting friends you've not seen for ages

Nightrise (A Philip Dryden Mystery) What a pleasure to revisit Ely and the Fens of eastern England in Jim Kelly's crime mystery novel Nightrise. It's a couple of years since I read my last Philip Dryden book, The Skeleton Man, and this one is set five years after the fictional journalist's previous outing.

It was a bit like visiting friends you've not seen for ages and who have hardly changed. Dryden's wife Laura has come out of her coma and just given birth to their son. The Crow, the local newspaper where Dryden works, is struggling in the new media climate. Humph is still driving the journalist around and learning foreign languages, this time Estonian.

The story takes place over one week and as with previous Dryden mysteries, weaves together several seemingly unconnected events. It touches on how the death of a loved one affects people, how deaths are registered, identity theft, and IT changes in journalism.

One of the things that Jim Kelly always does well is describing the Fens. Chapter 15 is particular vivid, when Dryden witnesses a re-flooding.
"the landscape was lifeless, which made the sky the most important facet of all, because it was the only moving, living thing. And so it didn’t matter how much water they let through the sluices, the sky would always be there; in fact, there’d be more of it, reflected in the water. Not a sea at all, or even a lake, carrying the inverted outlines of hills or mountains, pine trees, or lakeside homes; but instead just more sky."
There's not much to dislike in Nightrise. Only a churlish nerd would point out that the iMac laptop isn't a thing, but you can overlook that. It's best read in summer rather than in the middle of a cold snap, since it's set during a heatwave. Although the backstory is explained, making it unnecessary to read the previous five books, more enjoyment is gained if you've been with Dryden since 2003's The Water Clock. Re-discovering his immobile face "as if carved in stone on some cathedral tomb", that he's still finding food in his pockets that "he’d stowed away a few days earlier" and that Humph’s car's glove compartment is still "crammed with miniature spirits and wines" adds to the pleasure.

A good read for a dark and stormy night

The Small Hand Driving back from visiting a wealthy client in the south of England, Adam Snow takes a wrong turn and finds himself at the gate of a deserted house with an overgrown garden that used to be open to the public. As he stands in the silent dusk he "felt a small hand creep into my right one". So begins Susan Hill's ghost story, The Small Hand.

Don't believe the hype

Where the Crawdads Sing Here's one thing I liked about Delia Owens's Where the Crawdads Sing. It's a vivid description of the onset of a storm: "The wind hit first, rattling windows and hurling waves over the wharf." The use of the word hurling is very evocative. Unfortunately, that's about the only positive thing I have to say.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

No ordinary woman

The Hard Way Up: The Autobiography of Hannah Mitchell, Suffragette and Rebel Hannah Mitchell describes herself as a "very ordinary woman" in her autobiography The Hard Way Up. The fact that she's managed to write a fascinating account of working-class life in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries belies that description. Her story is incredibly uplifting and an example of what one can achieve with determination.

The democratisation of poetry

The Mersey Sound
Last year I reviewed John Cooper Clarke's Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt. I supposed that working class poets from the North West would mine the gritty reality of their industrial environment for their work rather than the romantic foppery of daffodils. How wrong I was. In The Mersey Sound, a collection first published in 1967, Adrian Henri has a poem called The New, Fast Automatic Daffodils(1).