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Lost City

Book Reviews: Issue 48

8 November 12 words: James Walker
The Bentinck Hotel, Lord Byron and preserving outlaws in arsenic are just some of the themes from local writers.


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Appearances in the Bentinck Hotel
Tim Cockburn
Tim Cockburn is a bohemian young rake from Nottingham whose twenty-page debut pamphlet Appearances in the Bentinck Hotel combines beauty with brevity. Last time I saw the author he was sat on the doorstep of the Flying Goose Café in Beeston with a half-empty bottle of red wine in his hand, after giving a brilliant reading, insisting he didn’t care how he got home, he was happy to sleep right there. He may die young in a dramatic fashion, but let’s hope he produces a few more books like this one first. I could expand on his profound voice, his spark of genius, but anyone who can write “I have been in love once or twice but a weir spits out a drowned dog eventually” or “My tenderness has trodden on a three-pin plug” is beyond that, really. Aly Stoneman
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Joy Unconfined! Lord Byron’s Grand Tour Re-Toured
Ian Strathcarron
Signal Books, £19.99 (HB)
Strathcarron faithfully follows Byron’s footsteps in this superb travelogue of the Mediterranean. On board his yacht ‘Vasco da Gama’ Strathcarron encounters storms (which Byron weathered by wrapping himself in his cloak and lying on the deck), a narcoleptic crewmate, an amiable Athenian journalist, Greek protesters and police, the King of Albania, the glamorous French Cultural Attaché, the eminent President of the Messolonghi Byron Society and numerous archaeologists, hoteliers and locals. When Byron set off on his tour he was 21. He swam the Hellespont, satisfied some of his exotic sexual urges and was sent on a diplomatic mission to meet the tyrant Ali Pasha. When he returned, two years later, he had the manuscript for his poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’ which made him famous overnight. With its superb photos and witty style, this fascinating book made me want to stowaway on the first boat out of Falmouth. Christy Fearn
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Made in Nottingham: A Writer’s Return
Peter Mortimer
Five Leaves, £8.99
Considering the author’s previous books have required him to travel 500 miles penniless across Britain, spend six months as a fisherman in the North Sea, travel through mountainous Yemen, spend a winter on Holy Island and two months in a Palestinian refugee camp, you would think that returning to his childhood home of 97 Danethorpe Street in Sherwood after a 48 year exile would be pretty straight forward. Wrong. The current occupier is far from hospitable and has little interest in indulging the author’s whims. Mortimer is quickly confronted with the realisation that the past is gone and that it is not so much the physical coordinates that determine a life but the act of living itself. The book is written in diary format and slips somewhere between social commentary and memoir. Dave Gorman for the sexagenarians. James Walker
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What You Don’t Know
David Belbin
The second outing for ex-lovers Sarah Bone and Nick Cane jumps off from Nottingham’s real-life Dave Francis drug worker/dealer case and dives into a web of secrets about drugs
(mostly), sex (quite a lot), politics (national, local and personal), and violence (nonicky). Switching between Blair-babe Bone’s Westminster life, and ex-con Cane’s career as a stoner in a small flat off Canning Circus, it’s more about sense of place and time than suspense and detection. For all that, there’s enough mystery to make it a compelling one-session read. One of the characters reads A Gun For Sale, Graham Greene’s 1936 ‘entertainment’ set in Nottingham, and says “it’s kind of cool, reading about the city all that time ago”. What You Don’t Know isn’t set all that long ago - 1997 - but for those of us who were there, it’s still kind of cool to remember what you used to know. Greene hated Nottingham but Belbin clearly loves it. Matt Hurst
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The Consequences of Preserving Outlaws in Arsenic
S.C. Maxfield
ebook, £2.57
This is your ordinary boy meets girl story, only one where the boy is an inept outlaw who gets shot and mummified and the girl is a gun-slinging Calamity Jane style single-mother. Inspired by the true (after) life exploits of one Elmer McCurdy, as featured in the excellent BBC Timewatch documentary from several years ago, Consequences is a rollickingly fast-paced comic thriller concerning lonely teenager Johnny and a quest to find his perfectly preserved grandfather, Oklahoma Bill (the outlaw of the title). In part this is a western, in part magical fantasy, but what carries the novel best is the author’s choice to narrate a large chunk of the story through the eyes of the long dead protagonist. Beautiful prose expertly brings together well-defined characters from past and present in an imaginatively told tale of the world’s oddest family reunion. Andrew Graves
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The Lives of Ghosts
Megan Taylor
Megan Taylor’s third novel tells the story of Liberty Fuller at two pivotal times of her life. At twelve, Libby loses her parents in a car accident. Her distraught pregnant stepmother, Marie, takes her to a remote loch house in search of healing. In her late thirties, a pregnant Libby returns to the loch house to discover the truth behind the veil her mind has draped over the events twenty-five years earlier. This is a book about the ghosts we all have – the events and people who haunt our memories and won’t leave us alone. Taylor’s beautiful dark prose interweaves the two timelines, skilfully revealing Libby’s story and showing how she comes to terms with the ghosts lurking in her childhood. A fascinating exploration of the way events separated by a quarter of a century can resonate with each other, The Lives of Ghosts grips from the first line to the last. Pippa Hennessy
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