Kit de Waal’s enchanting debut novel My Name is Leon has been longlisted for the Desmond Elliott prize. This achievement is well deserved as, from the first chapter, I was engrossed in the observant perspective of eight year old Leon. His narrative voice evokes the innocence of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, allowing the sensitive issues of racism, the 1981 riots sparked by police brutality and the Irish republican hunger strikes, to be presented in a sensitive, thought-provoking way, adding additional layers of complexity to the story.
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Golden Hill, longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize, is the debut fiction title written by Francis Spufford, acclaimed for his non-fiction publications. Set in 1746 New York, Spufford writes in the style of the time, which adds elegance and authenticity to the text, allowing the reader to more easily immerse themselves in the 18th century. I must say that, before Golden Hill, I read My Name is Leon, a simple story written from the perspective of a child. Therefore, it was a shock to begin Spufford’s novel and navigate through the complex description and dialogue. This extreme contrast between styles meant I struggled through the first dozen pages, but then quickly acclimated and lost myself in the beautifully illustrative prose. I particularly appreciated Spufford’s decision to break the fourth wall several times. The narrator humorously apologises for their inability to describe events such as a piquet game, creating welcome comical interludes in the tense scenes.
Karl Geary’s debut novel is a bittersweet tale of love and hardship. Geary delicately explores the divisions between young and old, working-class and well-off, and, heartbreakingly, the division between dreams and reality that further widens as the novel progresses.
Interested in what I was reading, a friend asked me to summarise this book as simply as I could in one sentence. I struggled with this request. I enjoyed this novel for many reasons; it was difficult to condense everything I wanted to say in one line, and I found myself stupidly answering, “It’s just about two guys who wander around Essex and London.”
Combe: Noun. A short valley or hollow on a hillside or coastline, especially in southern England.
This is the word that I learned from reading this novel, so it seemed a good place to start. This novel, the first from Thomas Maloney, is one that is perennially concerned with place. From the title onwards, the reader is always aware of the space that the narrator, the young, distant and bespectacled Sam Browne, finds himself. The chapters deal out a series of snapshots of the narrator’s life, defined by where he was at the time: London is a grey town of loss, the Yorkshire Dales are wild and (naturally enough) unable to provide solace, the titular combe is a hermitage of life and growth.
And it’s never just the setting – the narrator repeatedly sets the scene through the weather too, providing the reader with a Great British tour of weather, throughout the bitter Winter onwards. Just as with place, the weather is a constant companion to the reader, and there’s never a point where they don’t know what it’s doing outside. (more…)