Saturday, 4 February 2023

Review by Nina Walker of "The This" by Adam Roberts



Social media is becoming an increasingly pervasive companion as the twenty-first century drags its mangled body onwards. The idea of engaging with the virtual world before you even get up to brush your teeth has become something of an unquestioned norm for many (myself included). It is these new abnormal norms that The This plays upon. The novel centres on ‘the this,’ a device in the roof of your mouth that allows you to tweet without lifting a finger. When I have presented this concept to friends, the response is always a slightly horrified and yet intrigued grimace. 

We are already too deeply entangled with social media and yet the allure and elegance of a hands-free interface! You have to admit it has some attraction about it. But from the first chapter we become aware that ‘the this’ aims for more than just an easier user experience. It wants to create an empathy gorge - a virtual space where you can live a million lives in the same way you might ravage a packet of Revels. ‘You are a farmer. You are a farmer. You are a farmer. You are a farmer, pressed into the army and spiked with a spear from behind on a battlefield whose name you do not know.’ We have become the product people pay to experience; our lives and traumas are just raisins in the trail mix of The This. Your life is no longer private or special. That treasured memory of your wife kissing you for the first time is now everyone’s treasured memory of your wife. 

What is so startling about Robert’s novel is not only its relevancy - it is, after all, science fiction - but how unbelievably alluring it is. To never be lonely again, to access the knowledge of your peers, and be truly useful: who could turn down an offer like that? 

Not me. 

That’s for sure. 


About the reviewer
Nina Walker is studying a Modern and Contemporary literature MA at the University of Leicester. She writes poetry on modernity, dogs, and pub men (among other things) which can be found on her blog here. Her most recent project is an extended prose piece on work culture called The Anatomy of Work. She also enjoys dystopian fiction, producing digital art and the work of e. e. cummings. She can’t swim or ride a bike so it's probably for the best that she stays inside and writes. 

You can also read one of Nina's poems on Creative Writing at Leicester here

You can read more about Adam Roberts's The This on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Friday, 27 January 2023

Review by Jon Wilkins of "Cities on Fire" by C. H. Wilkins



Cities on Fire is a genre-bending mash-up of the superhero and spy genres, with a creeping and sinister dose of horror.

Spoiler Alert, as we say, the author is my son.

Even so, having followed his writing career for quite a while and read his earlier self-published novels, I approached this as I always do with eyes wide open and ready to critique if indeed critique is needed.

Cities on Fire, to quote the author, is '… a superhero conspiracy thriller, inspired by the comics I grew up with, and the answer to "what if you crossed the Avengers with The X-Files?"' And that’s exactly what you get. As we currently store over 11,000 of our son’s graphic novels in our attic, I can see the influences that weigh upon him and our bedroom ceiling. They are reflected in no small measure in his writing which at times echoes the visceral nature of the modern graphic novels, but still keep a sense of humour.

Whilst based on no particular super hero, the writer's characters maintain the usual features that we can expect from them, indeed his characterisation is one of the many highlights of this intriguing novel. The writer sets out his stall in the very first chapter when an attempt on the president's daughter causes mayhem and Madison is only able to overcome her adversary by sticking her hand into … No perhaps I’d best save you that image.

Cities on Fire takes place on new recruit Madison Myer's first day with the ALEPH organisation, when all hell breaks loose across the world. A rogue nation declares war! A long-dead supervillain hijacks the airwaves! A mysterious enemy targets key figures in ALEPH's leadership! Madison didn't think she'd have it easy, but she never thought it'd get this hard, and soon she's thrust onto the frontlines of a conspiracy with repercussions for the wider world.

While this is taking place, new evidence comes out suggesting that The Shrike, a disgraced superhero imprisoned for ten long, painful, years for a series of brutal murders, might not have been as guilty as everybody thought. How can you re-enter a world that turned its back on you, and what does it mean for the people you left behind? Or better yet, those who left you behind?

Wilkins doffs his blood-splattered cap to the history and legacy of comic books and skilfully transfers it to the written world. I find that his writing conveys the same magic of the comic book that we read in childhood and beyond into adulthood.  It will be up to you, the reader, to make what you wish of his various nods to comic book royalty. That alone is a pleasure in this blood-curdling, rip-roaring novel.  

The novel defies convention, defies reality as we know it, defies any attempt to pigeon hole it into a particular genre. It is a mash-up of all that we know from the super-hero world and more as Wilkins delves into the world of music and pop culture, of dystopian horror, villains and heroes, of murder and mayhem whilst maintaining a cohesive story line that will force you to the next page and the next. 

To call this a rollercoaster ride would be an understatement. Nothing is straightforward, we can only wish Madison Myer good luck for the next adventure that confronts her and hope that C. H. Wilkins delivers the sequel in good time.


About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is 67. He is married to the gorgeous Annie with two wonderful sons. He was a teacher for twenty years, a Waterstones bookseller and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years before taking up writing seriously. Nowadays he takes notes for students with Special Needs at Leicester University. He has had a work commissioned by the UK Arts Council and several pieces published traditionally as well as on-line. He has had poems in magazines and anthologies, art galleries, studios, museums and at Huddersfield Railway Station. He loves writing poetry. For his MA, he wrote a crime novel, Utrecht Snow. He followed it up with Utrecht Rain, and is now writing a third part. He is currently writing a crime series, Poppy Knows Best, set at the end of the Great War and into the early 1920s. Next year he takes up the UEA Crime Fiction Creative Writing MA. The game's afoot! 

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Review by Jon Wilkins of "The Christie Affair" by Nina de Gramont



I don’t know how many people are familiar with the great event of December 1926 when Agatha Christie disappeared, feared kidnapped or worse, dead, only to be found days later in a spa hotel in Harrogate.

Many convincing explanations of the affair have been played out; that she had a nervous breakdown after learning of her husband Archie's affair and the recent death of her mother, that she was perpetuating a giant publicity stunt or that she had simply lost her memory. Many books have been written about the occasion, but none as fascinating as this,

The Christie Affair is a wonderfully written novel with so many layers interwoven into it that it is a joy to read. The main thread, an unrelentingly painful love affair, dominates, but with consequences that we could never imagine or in truth, understand.

The sights and sounds of 1920s London, Torquay and Harrogate are described evocatively and one can get lost in the descriptions as the hunt wears on. The police were desperate and it became the greatest manhunt ever known in the UK. 

Now I’ve finished I wish I had read it more slowly but that would have been impossible as the various plot lines encourage the reader to turn page after page enthralled by the journey they are taken on. The author cleverly intermingles fact with fiction, but who would have guessed that her imagination would have taken her from the battlefields of World War I to the strict convents in Ireland and to the machinations of the police, the press and the woefully inadequate Archie Christie, who comes out of the story very badly.

There is a large cast of characters; each plays their part in a tale of murder and revenge that is so plausible, each given just enough space on the page to see them with credibility, not as some extra with a small role. Each character is vital to the plot and all is concisely explained at the denouement. 

The story is beautifully written. We are taken hold of and gripped until the very end. We know what we want the outcome to be and are then shocked when the writer's truth is told. The writer: is it her words or did this happen? It is described as a piece of fiction, but then … who knows? Perhaps it is true.

Do read this and make your own mind up. I think I will read it again, just to make sure.


About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is 67. He is married to the gorgeous Annie with two wonderful sons. He was a teacher for twenty years, a Waterstones bookseller and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years before taking up writing seriously. Nowadays he takes notes for students with Special Needs at Leicester University. He has had a work commissioned by the UK Arts Council and several pieces published traditionally as well as on-line. He has had poems in magazines and anthologies, art galleries, studios, museums and at Huddersfield Railway Station. He loves writing poetry. For his MA, he wrote a crime novel, Utrecht Snow. He followed it up with Utrecht Rain, and is now writing a third part. He is currently writing a crime series, Poppy Knows Best, set at the end of the Great War and into the early 1920s. Next year he takes up the UEA Crime Fiction Creative Writing MA. The game's afoot! 

You can read more about Utrecht Snow on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Review by Neil Fulwood of "ColdHarbour" by Kathryn Daszkiewicz



Kathryn Daszkiewicz is a poet of understatement and almost scalpel-like precision. Her poems have the impact of a moment of silence in a grand symphony, the hint of a memory or an idea stirring unreachably at the back of the mind. 

She is a forensically observational poet of the natural world as ‘Misletoe’ and ‘Four Seasons of Haunting,’ towards the beginning of the collection, demonstrate in fine style. The theme threads through ColdHarbour, culminating in the brilliantly sustained and imaginative sequence ‘The Greenwood Speaks: Twelve Trees of Ogham’ and the elegiac ‘Woods Seen from a Train.’

Elsewhere, there are poems on family, relationships, landscapes, the passing of time and the canvases of Edward Coley Burne-Jones. Throughout it all, Daszkiewicz’s voice is plaintive, her poetics subtle and her command of form and lineation and the use of negative space (particularly in ‘Harm and the Man’) are controlled and assured.

An enviable facility, evident in many of the pieces here, is the poem as a single sentence, unspooling down the page in perfect cadence, finely nuanced and as delicately balanced as a house of cards. Which is why I have chosen, in this review, to forego the inclusion of quotes. Trying to represent Daszkiewicz’s artistry by means of a handful of snipped out lines here are there would be a reductive and pointless exercise. 

Take ‘Visiting Time,’ for example. A poem about ageing, the trickery of memory and the traumas of war, it is constructed in two sections that play off each other, it deals in the accumulation of minutiae and it delivers its hammerblow denouement no louder than a whisper. To isolate five or six lines from it would tell you nothing. To read the whole piece is to quietly experience heartbreak. It is the kind of poem that doesn’t need a critic to talk it up or take it apart; it just needs a reader.

On which note, consider my work here done: ColdHarbour is an aesthetically and emotionally satisfying collection by a writer at the height of her powers. Seek out a copy. Make time to lose yourself in it and return to it. It really is that good.


About the reviewer
Neil Fulwood lives and works in Nottingham. He has published three full poetry collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It, Can’t Take Me Anywhere and Service Cancelled, and a volume of political satires, Mad Parade, with Smokestack Books.

Friday, 20 January 2023

Review by Jon Wilkins of "Sing me down from the dark" by Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana



How do you describe a ten-year stay in Japan, including two marriages, then a homecoming, and all the problems that cross-cultural relationships can bring? You write a poetry collection called Sing me down from the dark and this is just what Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana has done in an original and beautiful way.

This, however, is more than a mere collection of random thoughts and feelings. It is a complex series of emotions remembered in various poetic forms, each caught to highlight the poet's innermost thoughts and share them with us by laying herself bare to us, the reader. She exposes her own raw emotions and draws us into a period of her life that she has to share, to make sure none of it is forgotten and that every incident had a meaning, had a point in the schematic of her world.

It is a love story in all its forms, as wife, as mother, as woman. The banality of Japanese communal life is shared, with the expectations that come with it and we see how Corrin-Tachibana yearns to conform yet escape the life she finds herself in. What exactly does her life mean? Should she settle for what she has or should she take flight and find freedom from the suffocation she feels? The different forms her poems take seem to show this feeling that she is cornered, at bay, trapped between different cultures. Which should she choose? She tries each form, searching for an answer and by the end of the collection does she actually find what she wants?

There is a clash between East and the West, as Japanese and European cultures clash and merge as all the issues of daily life confront us. We are unsettled by the notion of being at home, and away from home, in love - finding true love in the birth of her son, but is this as totally fulfilling as it should be?

This is a wonderful collection. My eyes were opened to the Japanese culture and the way Corrin-Tachibana has tried to become part of it, while also resisting it as a way of staying true to herself. Enjoy the poems. You won't find anything like them for a long time. The poetic vision is perfect, we can all learn so much if we open up to her words and to her world. Corrin-Tachibana shows we are all the same, but all different. We can search for love but where do we find it? Can we ever find it?


About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is 67. He is married to the gorgeous Annie with two wonderful sons. He was a teacher for twenty years, a Waterstones bookseller and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years before taking up writing seriously. Nowadays he takes notes for students with Special Needs at Leicester University. He has had a work commissioned by the UK Arts Council and several pieces published traditionally as well as on-line. He has had poems in magazines and anthologies, art galleries, studios, museums and at Huddersfield Railway Station. He loves writing poetry. For his MA, he wrote a crime novel, Utrecht Snow. He followed it up with Utrecht Rain, and is now writing a third part. He is currently writing a crime series, Poppy Knows Best, set at the end of the Great War and into the early 1920s. Next year he takes up the UEA Crime Fiction Creative Writing MA. The game's afoot!


You can read more about Sing me down from the dark by Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Friday, 6 January 2023

Review by Joe Bedford of "We Saw It All Happen" by Julian Bishop



Watching news stories about environmental catastrophe, I feel something like anger, panic, despair, and underneath that something terrible and unfamiliar that leads me to silence. Naming that feeling – that is, finding an emotional vocabulary for what we are witnesses to – may become the dominant preoccupation of poetry in the coming years. Julian Bishop’s collection We Saw It All Happen is a step towards that emotional vocabulary.

Through verse rooted in the natural world, Bishop’s poetry embraces the global and the tiny, the present and the absent. His scope is vast: agriculture, climate, ethics, extinction, plastics, pollution, technology, waste. At times, Bishop’s feelings are drawn delicately in verse that is alive with sardonic humour, lamenting with the world’s insects for his own ‘addiction to squish, for its satisfying / half-rhyme with delicious.’ Elsewhere, his frustration subverts the poetic form in the same way anger chokes our ability to talk, raging on a ‘gob of atoll / slice of paradise / diced / into scum and phlegm / coughed up by firestorm / froth of surge / churned to a fury.’ At the heart of this frustration are the human behaviours that in some ways may live at the heart of our emotional confusion. With pithy clarity, he relates that ‘to protect the world from a threatened cat / the marksman only took one shot / to protect the threatened cat from the world / we only had one shot.’

But as Bishop declares from his preface, his intent is not fatalist. Rather, it is a cry for change. This is the call that prevents our currents of contradictory emotion from lowering us into paralysis. We may find that in expressing these contradictions, as Bishop achieves in We Saw It All Happen, we create a structure of feeling wherein those emotions no longer silence us, but call us to speak.


About the reviewer
Joe Bedford is a writer from Doncaster, UK. His short stories have been published widely and are available to read here. His debut novel A Bad Decade for Good People will be published by Parthian Books in Summer 2023.


You can read more about We Saw It All Happen by Julian Bishop on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Monday, 2 January 2023

Favourite Reads of 2022

At the end of every year, we ask readers to submit a micro-review of a favourite book from the last twelve months. The book can be from any time or genre - the only qualification is that it has to be a book the reader found particularly memorable, striking or enjoyable during the previous year. Here are the responses for 2022. Everybody's Reviewing wishes all its readers a happy new year of reading in 2023!


Kirsten Arcadio




Gabrielle Zevin, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow: "A novel after my own heart, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin takes us through the story of Sam and Sadie, a pair of gamers and later, hugely successful tech creatives. Tomorrow is a kind of love story, the writing  as fluid and flexible as the series of games created by the protagonists that string each scene of the novel together. More than that, it’s a reflection on the human condition and its transit through many reincarnations, both real and virtual. I’m left with a sense that there’s always a Tomorrow, a chance to walk away from Game Over and start afresh." 


Joe Bedford



Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead: "At 268 pages, Olga Tokarczuk's lyrical yet brutal Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) must be the longest novel I've read in a single sitting. The Nobel Prize-winner's exploration of animal ethics and Blakean spirituality within a classic whodunit structure is a masterclass in how novelists can interrogate the very depths of the human condition while still delivering an inescapable page-turner."


Kathleen Bell




Barbara Kingsolver, Demon Copperhead: "It's been a great year for books, largely thanks to public libraries and their wonderful librarians. I would never have bought Barbara Kingsolver's Demon Copperhead in hardback, however much I wanted to read it, but the library loaned me a copy almost as soon as it came out - and once I'd started on the first page I couldn't put it down. I don't suppose I'll ever know how she achieved such a compelling voice in this reworking of David Copperfield but it was vital to the way the novel as a whole undermines some of the most deeply embedded class assumptions in the USA. Read it! Had it not been for Demon Copperhead I would probably have chosen the non-fiction book by Thomas Harding, White Debt: The Demerara Uprising and Britain's Legacy of Slavery or opted for a tie between two of the poetry collections I'm currently reading: A Little Resurrection by Selina Nwulu and Manorism by Yomi Sode. All these are well worth reading."


Laura Besley


 

Charlotte McConaghy, Migrations: "Migrations is a cli-fi novel about Franny Stone, a woman in her mid-thirties who decides to track the last remaining Arctic terns on their pole-to-pole migration. Offsetting the harshness of the setting and circumstances is McConaghy’s lyrical evocative language. This is a beautiful and engaging read."  


Laurie Cusack



John Fante, Ask the Dust "is a timeless, corking text that’s set in 1930s Los Angeles. It’s a superb portrait of a young budding down-at-heel wordsmith: Arturo Bandini. Young Bandini’s all-consuming ambition and his rites of passage are tough, hilarious and often bittersweet are laid bare in elegant fashion. Shout Fante’s dynamite refrain from every rooftop: 'I am Arturo Bandini.'" 


Andrew Dix




Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks: "I came to this book belatedly, but loved its verbal richness. Macfarlane reads a peat bog or the face of a mountain as sensitively as he does the contours of a text. On, or down, to Macfarlane's Underland in 2023!" 


Charlie Hill



Gwendolyn Brooks, 
Maud Martha: "Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize. I'd never heard of her. This is an absolute joy: lyrical, unsentimental, and very modern."


Joe Joyce



Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart: "This book explored Zauner’s grief and life in such a well observed and musical way that I really connected to. She writes about loss so openly and honestly and lets her memories take the main focus."


Isabelle Kenyon



Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers: "Jenga and wife Neni don't have parental approval for their marriage, but they do have a shared dream of moving to New York. They find out the American dream is harsh and the break down of their dreams is moving, as is the outline of the immigration journey. I found it refreshing that the rich family they work for in the end are not demonised - no character is shown as in the right or the wrong absolutely." 


Andrew G. Lockhart




Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The City of Mist, translated by Lucia Graves: "This collection of eleven stories recalls the tone and splendour of Zafón’s novels. Dark, atmospheric and macabre, and crossing genre from literary through historical to fantasy, they feature angels, plague, labyrinths and dragons, as well as characters from the author’s earlier books. A wonderful celebration of a great writer taken from the world too soon."


Karen Rust




Iain Banks, The Wasp Factory: "Protagonist, Francis, does some awful things which might not be to everyone's taste, but they are consistent with his character. A fascinating tale of a family who live life differently as they cope with mental illness. I love the freedom Francis has to fill their own time, and the lyrical descriptions of the island and coast. A dark, funny, crazy and, ultimately, human read."


Jonathan Taylor




Naoki Urasawa, Monster: "This was recommended to me by my daughter Miranda. It is a remarkable, disturbing and sophisticated mingling of art, neurology, psychology, political history and adventure story: Death in Venice meets the 1970s TV series Incredible Hulk meets Les Misérables meets
The Omen. Brilliant."


Maria Taylor




Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle: "In the first instance, this book is only loosely about the man in the high castle and is more about a 'what if' scenario. What if the Nazis had won the war, what terrible things would befall the fate of people across the world and how would America define itself as a 'colonised' state? A gripping and very strange book to read." 


Miranda Taylor (aged 14)



Tatsuya Endo, Spy x Family: "Spy x Family is one of my favourite reads of the year. It is a wholesome story about a spy, assassin and a telepath as their adopted child as they all try and hide their identities from each other. It becomes a cute and heart-warming story about their journey as a fake family."


Rosalind Taylor (aged 14)



Cuttlefish That Loves Diving, Lord of the Mysteries: "Lord of the Mysteries is my favourite read of the year. It is about Klein Moretti who is transmigrated to another world set in Victorian England and it is also about gods. I really enjoyed the book series and the characters."


Paul Taylor-McCartney



John Banville, The Sea
"A short and concise meditation on the fallibility of human memory and its ability to both pollute and shape the present. Beautifully written and expertly structured, a literary masterpiece."


Helen Walsh



Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch: "The Goldfinch follows the fortunes of Theo Decker, orphaned by tragedy at 13 and overshadowed by it for the rest of his young adult years. There seems to be no way to go but down for Theo, the only thing bolstering him, the painting he 'accidentally' acquires at the moment of his mother's death. The Goldfinch is certainly epic: gripping, nail-biting, excruciating, thoughtful, heroic, tragic and uplifting all at once. Alongside the page-turning, there are ponderous moments (it's a long book!), but there is a true sense of growth in the characters - and in yourself - by the end."


Harry Whitehead




Jenny Offill, Weather: "Existential despair about climate change has surely never been delivered in so witty and scabrous a fashion. Offill’s librarian/mother/eco-blogger protagonist observes life in hilarious, emotive and poignant short segments that burst with voice and vitality."


Lee Wright



Anna Neima, The Utopians: "The significant story of six previously untried attempts by visionaries ahead of their time, to build near-perfect societies in the aftermath of the First World War. Social dreaming and paradises found and lost."  


Tuesday, 20 December 2022

Review by James Nash of "Selected Poems" by Donald Davie, ed. Sinéad Morrissey



I like a knotty, argumentative poet.  And I like Donald Davie very much. He was a blind date.  I knew the name but had read, to my knowledge, none of his work. Barnsley born but for much of his life a peripatetic academic, there’s more than a bit of Yorkshire grit in these poems, the grit around which pearls are formed.

In a brilliant new selection by Sinéad Morrissey there are pieces from every decade of Davie’s writing life; poems where he foreswears sentimentality and romanticism and chews away at ideas and experiences like a favourite bone. What we have then in his writing is a synthesis of his internal dialogue that speaks directly to us. These are not imagery-filled, metaphor-heavy poems and they feel as if he has chipped them, mason-like, from stone to ‘chisel honey from the saxifrage.’

Poems which reference 18th-century poet William Cowper and Barnsley Cricket Club win me over instantly, and I warm to the poet and the man. I am astonished by how much he wrote and how close he was in age to the present me when he died in 1995. I think we are now dating.

This is an accessible exploration of Davie’s work.  And it makes me want to read more, so this taster selection clearly works. It is an important reminder of the great writer he was, and how relevant he still is, nearly thirty years after his death. Morrissey’s introduction is clear-eyed and intelligent, a perfect primer for a clear-eyed and intelligent poet who in his poem 'Wombwell on Strike' writes:

           I was born of this 
           tormented womb, the taut West Riding.


About the reviewer
James Nash is a poet and writer based in Leeds. Heart Stones, his third collection of sonnets, was published by Valley Press in 2021.

Thursday, 15 December 2022

Review by Alan McCormick of "Without Warning and Only Sometimes: Scenes from an Unpredictable Childhood" by Kit de Waal



Kit De Waal’s narration is clear-eyed and unsentimental, devoid of self-pity, with an extraordinary gift of recall and eye for detail borne from a harsh childhood, where survival was often found in the shadows, dreaming, observing, trying to make sense of the goings on in an often unpredictable, joyless home, attempting to understand her family’s place in the world. 

Kit’s Mom is from Wexford and her Dad from St. Kitts. Being both Irish and Caribbean in nineteen-sixties-and-seventies Britain meant enduring endemic prejudice and everyday acts of racism – being called ‘Little Miss Fuzzy Wuzzy’ by a teacher or ‘wog’ and ‘blackie’ by a spiteful classmate – singled out in turn for being either Irish or black or mixed-race.  Even Kit’s grandmothers, Nan and Black Nana, never accept the racial partner choices made by their children, and, worse, Kit’s parents seem to distrust and reject each other’s cultures, and barely connect or show affection to each other. 

Kit’s Dad, Arthur, is mostly controlled (controlling), off-handily critical and barely present, living through cricket (he’s good), and detective and cowboy films on television. He springs momentarily to life to corral his willing kids (desperate for a bit of fun) to help bake Christmas cakes to give as gifts or make Caribbean food at weekends whilst Mom, Sheila, is at work. He puts on a good face around relatives and friends from home, fondly reminiscing a romanticised past. There is little money around and what money there is, is rarely spent on enough food and clothing for Kit and her siblings. Whilst Sheila tries to save, Arthur would rather use his money to keep up appearances by buying a smart car, good shoes for himself, sending extravagant gifts back home and building a house for his fantastical return to St Kitts. 

Sheila is overwrought and overworked (doing many jobs, cleaning, child-minding, caring, and running the home). She’s exhausted and distracted, needy and swamping when showing unexpected moments of generosity or affection (the sudden purchase of art supplies is accompanied by her manic desperation for the kids to instantly use and enjoy them), her feelings dissipated in caring for vulnerable strangers outside the home. She does rise to meet a crisis, caring in response to Kit’s dramatic childhood accidents, but becomes increasingly frustrated as time passes, saving milk bottles to throw at the outhouse wall, escaping into a forlorn, nostalgic reverie of singalong sentimental songs. 

And then there’s Jehovah which means no Christmas or birthday presents! Kit and her siblings learn to endure, and (ultimately) reject the weekly services at Kingdom Hall with their boring, guilt-tripping sermons, by making up irreverent names for the congregation. But Mom is on a mission to spread the word and in one hilarious, acutely observed scene, she again tries to lay traps (the increased frequency of natural disasters) to try and entice and convert her wily Catholic mother, who is having none of it: ‘It’s a push-me-pull-you of a dance,’ Kit observes. ‘As old as time, the child who was never the favourite, the mother who couldn’t love enough. They lock in with their clumsy footsteps, out of step to the music, each one trying to lead, stepping on toes.’

Affection and joy may arrive in the home ‘without warning and only sometimes’ for Kit and her siblings but it can also come from outside – Dad’s cousin Uncle Mike is ‘loud, gruff, rough, fun’ and the kids love being around him in his chaotic bedsit. Kit and her siblings also learn to find their own fun, to stick together to survive.

Everyone in the family wants to escape and change their lives, and, whilst Dad and Mom are thwarted, Kit finds salvation, the possibility of a better life away from home, first with friends, and then in the company of characters from books. She devours the classics recommended to her, the watcher becoming a reader, and later the writer who will let us into her life and tell her story – a multi-layered story about race and class, of hope and survival. It’s a wonderful, wise, and life-enhancing book that will stay with me for a long time.


About the reviewer
Alan McCormick lives in Wicklow. He’s a trustee with  InterAct Stroke Support who read fiction and poetry to stroke patients. Alan’s writing can be read in current issues of The Stinging Fly, Southword and Exacting Clam; and online at 3:AM Magazine, Fictive Dream, Dead Drunk Dublin, Mono, Words for the Wild and Époque Press. His story, 'Firestarter,' came second in this year’s RTÉ short story competition. For further information, see here


You can read more about Without Warning and Only Sometimes, by Kit de Waal, on Creative Writing at Leicester here