Towards the end of Gamble, the excellent second novel from Black Country writer Kerry Hadley-Pryce, the eponymous lead character brings to mind – inaccurately – the opening line of a poem by Louis Macneice. The line is: ‘Time was away and somewhere else’ and it is this sense of temporal respite that Gamble is fondly (desperately?) imagining he can conjure from an extra-marital dalliance.
He’s wrong of course. Because there’s no respite here, temporal or otherwise, at least not until the very last line of the book (and that is less than convincing). Instead, delivered in prose that is as unsentimental and spare as it is affecting, Gamble is subjected to a relentless psychic-beat down as he scrabbles to escape the consequences of past behaviours.
It's a gripping, urgent read. Its depiction of a man left out of his depth by fatherhood and ill-health, and the distance between who he is and what he’d like to be, reminded me a little of a novel called Kids Stuff by Henry Sutton. What Hadley-Pryce does particularly well – and this is where Gamble echoes her equally accomplished debut, The Black Country – is depict the compromises and delusions of an airless marriage. That and the menace of the setting, of course. Here this includes the Stourbridge canal: 'If you look at the canal, it’s like looking at some people, you can tell there is a darkness trembling just beneath the surface there, being suppressed. There is a sense of complication. There’s nothing benign about them. Gamble, for example, fears what he does not yet know, and his anxiety escapes in wefts. He has a fair amount of insight into himself, he’ll say. Yet he’ll admit that facing the truth of it isn’t easy. It is mostly the insight that’s the issue, actually, because when you suspect, when you think you know something – some darkness or other might be shifting about inside you – but you try to ignore it, or replace it, or overlay it with other thoughts, other actions, then you’re asking for trouble, aren’t you?’